Tag Archives: antisemitism

Witch-hunt’s biggest victim

Chris Williamson has dared question the claim that Labour has become institutionally anti-Semitic under Jeremy Corbyn, writes Carla Roberts. Now he is likely to be expelled for this crime.

For future generations of socialists studying how the right has managed to brand lifelong anti-racists as racists, July 9 2019 might serve as a symbolic date.

Outside the Labour Party’s HQ in London’s Victoria Street, 100 protestors gathered in solidarity with the Labour Party’s bravest MP. They delivered a petition, signed by almost 4,000 people, demanding Chris Williamson’s reinstatement. Speakers who were there on behalf of Labour Against the Witchhunt, Jewish Voice for Labour, the Labour Representation Committee, the RMT union and various Momentum branches outlined what really is behind the charges against Williamson: “This is an attack on Jeremy Corbyn himself, because he remains an unreliable ally from the ruling class’s point of view,” said Stan Keable of Labour Against the Witchhunt – a position that was echoed by many other speakers on the day.

Inside the ugly Southside tower, however, fewer than 40 people (most of whom had sneaked in through the back door) made a decision that allowed the McCarthyite witch-hunt in the party to reach Kafkaesque proportions. In what we believe was an unprecedented move, a majority of Labour’s national executive committee voted to ‘revisit’ the verdict of an NEC anti-Semitism panel to reinstate comrade Williamson to full party membership. This only became possible because general secretary Jennie Formby had chosen to accept the ridiculous claim by Keith Vaz (one of the three panel members making the decision) that he was on some kind of mysterious medication that had rendered all his decisions on that day unsafe. Instead, she should have sent him to an independent doctor to verify his claims.

But her decision underlines yet again who is calling the shots in the raging civil war in the party – and that the leadership around Corbyn is still trying to appease the right rather than openly take them on. True, Corbyn might not want to see Williamson expelled. But by not speaking out and allowing the witch-hunt to grow and grow over the last three years, Jeremy Corbyn is as culpable for this decision as Tom Watson, who coordinated the vicious media backlash against Williamson’s brief reinstatement.

So instead of clearing comrade Williamson – which is, of course, the only rational conclusion the so-called evidence against him allows – the July 9 NEC meeting decided to have his case re-examined by a different NEC anti-Semitism panel.

lobby Chris Williamson NECIncredibly, this will be the third panel dealing with Chris’s case. As we reported last week, the first one was to be made up of Momentum owner Jon Lansman, Claudia Webbe and ex-MP George Howarth. We can just about imagine the furore if such an ostensibly leftwing panel had voted to send Williamson – who is hugely popular amongst the membership – to the national constitutional committee (NCC). This is where the NEC outsources all the disciplinary cases that it cannot/does not want to deal with. Despite this body’s recent expansion from 11 to 25 members, it is still dominated by the right; the three person panels are ‘traditionally’ made up of one leftwinger and two rightwingers. No wonder that a referral to the NCC usually results in expulsion – which is how it got its well-deserved epithet of ‘national kangaroo court’. Both Webbe and Lansman chickened out, leaving it to a second panel to rule on the case. As we know, Huda Elmi and Keith Vaz both voted for Williamson’s reinstatement, which was followed by a very PR-effective outcry by the right, mobilised by chief saboteur Tom Watson (whom Steve Hedley, assistant general secretary of the RMT union, quite rightly called “a scoundrel” that “the members should get rid off” at the lobby outside).

What if this third panel finds Williamson innocent? Will somebody have to fake a heart attack to get the verdict revisited once again? How many panels does it need to get the correct answer? We already know, of course, that the next panel is bound to get it ‘right’ – ie, wrong – and send Williamson’s case to the NCC.

Vicious circle

There is a very small chance this will not result in Williamson’s expulsion, but this has less to do with justice and more to do with timing: should there be a snap election before his case is dealt with by the NCC, he will be unable to stand again in Derby North, the constituency he represents, as he will still be suspended. Somebody else will be installed as the official candidate and might or might not become the next MP for Derby North.

It is far more likely, however, that the party leadership will want to get this over with soon. The very public resignation this week of three parasites from Labour’s benches in the House of Lords (who bizarrely claim that the party is “shielding anti-Semites”) and the outrageously one-sided edition of BBC’s Panorama programme on the issue will add even more pressure on those around Jeremy Corbyn to be seen to ‘act’. Unfortunately, we know what that means: there will be more investigations, more suspensions, more expulsions. The witch-hunt grows – ditto the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn. It is a vicious circle.

There is exactly zero chance of comrade Williamson getting a fair trial at the NCC – and even less chance of being exonerated. We expect that he will (eventually) be expelled. So let us be clear what his ‘crimes’ are: like Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth and many other Corbyn supporters who have been smeared, vilified and wrongfully accused of anti-Semitism, he will be expelled for stating that the tiny number of cases of actual anti-Semitism in the party have been weaponised, amplified and woven into a hugely distorted, politically motivated narrative. He will be expelled for the crime of questioning the commonplace that the party has become institutionally anti-Semitic because of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. He will be expelled, in other words, for daring to state the truth.

As Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi of Jewish Voice for Labour put it at the NEC lobby, “Now even questioning if somebody really is an anti-Semite is proof that you are an anti-Semite yourself.” Or, in the words of Moshé Machover, who also addressed the event: “The proof that Chris Williamson was right to question the party’s response to such false allegations is, of course, his own treatment by the party.”

There are obvious similarities to the case of Ken Livingstone. The former mayor of London might have been slightly clumsy in his off-the-cuff remarks about Hitler – who, he said, “supported Zionism until he went mad”. Of course, he got the date wrong when he said Hitler came to power in 1932 (it was a year later). It was also wrong to personalise the shift in policy. But the point he was making about the collaboration of the early Nazi regime and Zionism is basically correct, as comrade Machover outlines in his excellent article, ‘Anti-Zionism does not equal anti-Semitism’.

Livingstone’s original punishment for saying what is now deemed unsayable was a one-year suspension. The NEC was probably hoping that things would die down and that he could be allowed to sneak back quietly into the party. But, of course, by giving in to the witch-hunters and suspending him in the first place, the NEC and the leadership helped to fuel the flames and allow the witch-hunt to grow out of all proportion. So, instead of readmitting him, they planned to add another 12 months to his suspension. At this stage though, the rightwingers in and outside the party had grown so emboldened that anything less than Livingstone’s expulsion was not acceptable. Livingstone resigned to save Corbyn from further blushes.

We do not expect comrade Williamson to do the same. Contrary to Livingstone and many other Labour lefts, he is quite prepared to publicly criticise Corbyn. We note with interest the open letter circulated just before the July 9 NEC meeting, which has been signed by Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, John Pilger, professor Avi Shlaim, Alexei Sayle, Lowkey, Brian Eno, Professor Ilan Pappe and some other well-known people. This has no doubt been prepared with Williamson’s input:

Jeremy’s victory in 2015 was almost immediately followed by an onslaught against his supporters – starting with black and Jewish socialists – maliciously misrepresented as anti-Semites by disparate forces hostile to the prospect of a Corbyn-led government. Chris was sometimes their only parliamentary ally and advocate. The party’s complicity in this campaign of systematic harassment of black and Jewish members with long histories of fighting racism rendered all activists and MPs fair game, including Jeremy and members of his shadow cabinet.

This paragraph points to the ridiculous nature of the witch-hunt. Chiefly directed against Corbyn and his supporters, it could only become so successful because of “the party’s complicity” – ie, that of Jeremy Corbyn himself and those around him.

What’s an anti-Semite?

We note that Gordon Brown and Keith Starmer are now demanding that “anti-Semites” should be “automatically expelled from the party”. That begs the question: what exactly is an anti-Semite? Thousands of party members have been suspended and investigated – and not because they show actual “hostility to or prejudice against Jews” (which is how the Oxford English Dictionary defines anti-Semitism).

Most complaints are based on (sometimes sloppy) comments made in the heat of an online debate, when somebody, for example, writes ‘Zionists’ when they should say ‘the Israeli government’. Or somebody sharing a meme or a video that, on much closer inspection, turns out to be the work of an actual anti-Semite – does that make the sharer anti-Semitic? How about having your words taken out of context, twisted and rearranged?

Or take the evolution of the term ‘Zionism’. This is a label chosen by the Zionists themselves to describe their political ideology. Yet we have seen dozens of examples of Labour members being investigated simply for their use of the word – often merely in a descriptive fashion. They are presented with a charge sheet that reads:

The Chakrabarti report states: “The word ‘Zionist’ has been used personally, abusively or as a euphemism for ‘Jew’ … Use the term ‘Zionist’ advisedly, carefully and never euphemistically or as part of personal abuse.” Do you think that your comments are against the spirit of this?”

Ditto Jon Lansman, who wants to ban the diminutive form, ‘Zio’, because for him it is an insult.

Those accused might point out the Chakrabarti report has, in fact, not been implemented – otherwise, for example, automatic suspensions like that of comrade Williamson, would have to cease too.

These types of accusations make up the vast majority of the complaints against Labour members. Hastily written, sometimes based on misconceptions and misinformation and, yes, sometimes based on low-level prejudice. But these instances – which, as can be expected, are increasing proportionally with the growth of the witch-hunt – would best be countered not by silly demands for ‘zero tolerance’, but by education through open debate (and, no, we are not talking about the ‘rehabilitation programmes’ offered by the Zionists of the Jewish Labour Movement or the witch-hunters in Hope not Hate, who have joined in the calls to expel Chris Williamson).

After all, the idea of socialism is based on the presumption that people can change, for the better. But then, most of the people pushing this witch-hunt and a ‘zero tolerance’ approach are, of course, not socialists – and should not be members of the Labour Party.

And, encouragingly, some half a dozen rightwing MPs have now publicly declared that they will not stand again. These include Blairites like Kate Hoey, Stephen Twiggs, Jim Fitzpatrick and Kevin Barron. Good riddance. Let us hope there will be many more rightwingers who follow their example.

Most of those now stepping down are, of course, jumping ship before they are pushed, thanks to the newly reformed system of trigger ballots. We are still awaiting detailed guidelines and a timetable from Labour HQ (without which trigger ballots cannot be launched), but we note with great interest a circular that was apparently sent by Jennie Formby to panicked MPs at the beginning of July. It clarifies how votes will be counted. As readers know, if a minimum of 33% of a Constituency Labour Party’s branches or 33 % of the CLP’s affiliates vote ‘no’ to retaining the sitting MP, a full selection process starts – ie, a democratic contest between different candidates, including the MP. But the circular clarifies this by stating: “the third of branches is calculated based only on the branches that do cast a vote”. Which would be excellent, if indeed this is how the rule will be implemented.

Getting rid of some of the biggest saboteurs in the Parliamentary Labour Party is crucial in the fight to transform the party into a weapon of and for the working class. It remains to be seen, however, whether this will be a case of ‘too little, too late.

Stand up to your enemies

The more Corbyn retreats, writes David Shearer, the more the Labour right grows in confidence

No doubt Jeremy Corbyn was relieved that for a couple of days the media was focussing on former foreign secretary Boris Johnson’s remarks about the burka and temporarily relegating the latest fake news about Labour ‘anti-Semitism’ from the main headlines.

But, unfortunately, it will not last long. Johnson may have compared women wearing the burka to “bank robbers” and “letter boxes”, but no-one should expect the media to start digging up previous Islamophobic remarks he may have made, let alone start a campaign to expose the “severe and widespread” Islamophobia affecting the entire Tory Party (although, of course, there is no doubt that this would be much more productive in terms of finding genuine examples than the ‘anti-Semitism’ nonsense has been).

I am afraid to say, Jeremy, that the attacks on you are not going to stop any time soon. They are, after all, predicated on two interconnected aims: ensuring that support for Israel – imperialism’s key ally in the Middle East – is not undermined; and helping to win back control of the Labour Party for the right wing, so that the ruling class will have a ‘responsible’ alternative to the Conservative Party, should it become temporarily unelectable. That is why no end of apologies or unprincipled retreats will stop the onslaught. In reality, the more Corbyn does that, the more the onslaught will intensify. Everyone can see that it is paying off.

Take last week’s article by Corbyn in The Guardian, entitled ‘I will root anti-Semites out of Labour – they do not speak for me’. In this piece Labour leader went along with the absurd notion that anti-Semitism is a major problem within the party and that people like Pete Willsman, who strongly denied this at the July 17 meeting of Labour’s national executive committee, are effectively aiding and abetting the anti-Semites: “… no-one can, or should, try to dismiss or belittle the concerns expressed by so many Jewish people and organisations about what has been happening in the party I am proud to lead.”

In the video on Labour’s website, sent out by email to all members shortly after the Guardian article was published, Corbyn went further: “Anyone who denies that this has surfaced within our party is clearly actually wrong and contributing to the problem.” And in the article he states:

Denying the continuing problem doesn’t help. Labour staff have seen examples of holocaust denial, crude stereotypes of Jewish bankers, conspiracy theories blaming 9/11 on Israel, and even one individual who appeared to believe that Hitler had been misunderstood.

This is worse than pathetic. There is no doubt that among the more than half a million members that the Labour Party now has a minority that have all kinds of weird views – and some of them will find their way on to social media. But, as Corbyn himself admits, they account for only a tiny percentage of the membership, most of whom will be inactive. There is no evidence of such people exerting any influence whatsoever.

Of course, much has been made of a small number of high-profile cases – Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, Tony Greenstein, Moshé Machover … But in none of them has anti-Semitism been established. For the most part the original allegations were withdrawn for charges such as the catch-all “bringing the party into disrepute”. In the case of comrade Machover, all the preposterous claims made against him were withdrawn after a rank-and-file campaign, while comrade Walker’s case has yet to be heard almost two years after she was suspended.


It is true that Corbyn states: “there are also many non- or anti-Zionist Jews who should not be branded as anti-Semites simply because they are not part of the Zionist tradition” – that applies to comrades Walker, Machover and Greenstein. But then he adds: “Both traditions have always had honourable proponents in our movement” (my emphasis). So the tradition of Zionism is “honourable”, is it?

I am sorry, Jeremy, but Zionism is a reactionary ideology (as you once knew) – based on the notion that Jews everywhere will always be oppressed unless they establish their own state. True, it emerged as a reaction to widespread anti-Semitism and pogroms in many countries, but it was opposed by the majority of Jews, who regarded themselves first and foremost as German, Russian, British, French … Indeed Jews have always played a prominent role in the internationalist working class movement, which calls for a united struggle against oppression, as opposed to Zionist separatism.

But now the Labour leader seems to accept that the Zionists are a bona fide representative of the “Jewish community”. He still has not met with representatives of the anti-Zionist Jewish Voice for Labour, despite JVL’s constant requests. (By the way, JVL organised a 100-strong protest on August 7 outside the BBC against its biased coverage of this whole business, but, true to form, the corporation did not report it – and neither did any other media outlet apart from the Daily Mail.) On the other hand, he begs Zionist groups like the Jewish Labour Movement to have another meeting with him to help ‘smooth out’ the difficulties – which, of course, JLM is declining to do.

In his article Corbyn does take issue with the absurd claim that “a Labour government would represent any kind of threat, let alone an ‘existential threat’, to Jewish life in Britain”, as three Jewish newspapers recently claimed. But he excuses the blatant dishonesty involved, declaring: “That is the kind of overheated rhetoric that can surface during emotional political debates.”

Does anyone seriously believe that a Corbyn government would open the way for Nazi-type death camps? If not, in what way do the Zionists believe that the very existence of Jews would come under threat? But, of course, he goes out of his way to pander to the Zionist agenda: “I accept that, if any part of our national community feels threatened, anxious or vulnerable, not only must that be taken at face value [sic], but we must all ensure those fears are put to rest.” After all, “The holocaust was the greatest crime of the 20th century. Jewish people who are feeling concerned must be listened to.”

IHRA definition

A central feature of the ongoing campaign is, of course, the demand that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism, plus all the attached ‘examples’, are adopted by Labour in full. As everyone knows, the overall aim of the definition, combined with the examples, is to conflate anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism. Two of the example in particular stand out:

  • “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination: eg, by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour”; and
  • “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”

The first of these is blatantly pro-Zionist – implying that Jews in each and every country share a common nationality and as such have the right to “self-determination”. What is more, the Zionist colonisation of Palestine of necessity involved racist laws and practices against the Palestinians. It is absurd to claim that pointing out these straightforward facts is a form of prejudice or hatred against Jews.

The same applies to the second example quoted. In fact, it is common in Israel itself for such comparisons with Nazi Germany to be made – the most recent case being over the knesset’s adoption of Binyamin Netanyahu’s Nation-State law, which enshrined a ‘blood and soil’ version of nationalism; it has been compared in Israel not just to apartheid legislation, but to German fascism.

As for the IHRA definition itself, it reads in its entirety:

Anti-Semitismis a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitismare directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.

This clearly cannot be the basis of any reliable definition. The fact that it states that anti-Semitism “may be expressed as hatred toward Jews” indicates that it is incomplete. You do not have to ‘hate’ Jews to be an anti-Semite. For example, throughout the first half of the 20th century, it was easy enough to encounter the expression of all manner of low level forms of prejudice directed against Jews. As for the second sentence, it is obviously accurate, but it in no way helps define what anti-Semitism is.

 Pete Willsman

Let me turn now to the slurs directed against Pete Willsman – the latest in a long list of false accusations, which in this case conveniently targets an NEC member. His intervention at the July 17 NEC meeting was secretly recorded and given to the Jewish Chronicle. In this he noted the letter signed by 68 rabbis, which was published in that morning’s Guardian, who stated: “… anti-Semitism within sections of the Labour Party has become so severe and widespread that we must speak”.

In his online report of the meeting posted two days later, he stated: “In 50 years I have never seen any anti-Semitism in the Labour Party” – a sentiment that the majority of Labour activists would no doubt echo. On the recording he can be heard saying: “Ask the rabbis, where is your evidence of severe and widespread anti-Semitism in this party?” He also claimed that some of the people posting “duff information” were “Trump fanatics”.

Interestingly, his report did not give the impression that anyone on the NEC was outraged by these statements. He wrote:

This NEC meeting was dominated by a very lengthy, very informed and very thoughtful discussion regarding the anti-Semitism code of conduct. In my 37 years on and off national committees, I can hardly remember a more sensitive and thoughtful debate. Almost every NEC member provided contributions. There was no attempt at point-scoring and every participant spoke frankly and sincerely.

However, a couple of weeks later, the recording was made available, and comrade Willsman was the target of the most malicious smears. Because he had criticised some Jews, he just had to be an anti-Semite. Some called for him to be immediately expelled, while Labour deputy leader Tom Watson stated: “For the avoidance of doubt, Peter Willsman is and always has been a loud-mouthed bully. He disgusts me.” It is, of course, quite acceptable for members of the Labour right to use such language.

It was clear that comrade Willsman was leaned on to apologise and he told the BBC:

Not all of what I said has been accurately reported. But I accept that what I did say, and the way I said it, fell short of the requirement, which I accept, for discussions of contentious issues to be conducted in a fully civil and respectful way. I deeply apologise for any offence caused to those present and those to whom my remarks were reported.

In other words, he may have been a bit rude. But this obviously fell far short of what the Labour right was demanding and what, appallingly, Momentum insisted he should say. So, within hours, he was reduced to grovelling:

I recognise the offensive nature of my comments and that, in diminishing the experiences of those who face anti-Semitism in our party and society, I showed a lack of the sensitivity required for discussions around racism. I will be referring myself to receive equalities training, so I can better understand how to approach discussions of such issues in a respectful way.

Comrade Willsman was, of course, dropped from the Momentum slate of recommended candidates for the NEC, but hopefully the majority of Labour members will ignore this disgraceful decision and vote for him, together with the other eight Corbynite candidates.

It is clear too that Corbyn’s comment about the denial of “severe and widespread” anti-Semitism “contributing to the problem” was in part directed against comrade Willsman. The implication is that anyone who now repeats this will themselves risk disciplinary action. Pretend that you agree with the smears or face the consequences.

The lesson of the ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign is clear: the more Corbyn retreats, backtracks and apologises, the more the Labour right grows in confidence. Backed up by virtually the entire media, their attacks will only intensify. It is time for the Labour leader to stand up to his enemies instead of conceding more and more ground.

Call time on Corbyn fanboyism

Capitulation will never be good enough for the right – so the Labour left has no interest in compromise, argues Jim Grant of Labour Party Marxists

Another week, another great torrent of spurious anti-Semitism allegations.

We would go through a few of them, but, really, why bother? There is nothing new here – just the same fetid concoction of lies, innuendo and smears, lightly seasoned (if that) with actual examples of anti-Semitism invariably culled from a few cranks on the internet. By equally valid means could the Labour Party be just as fairly accused of being a Russian mafia front, a giant paedophile ring, or – alas! – an instrument of world Jewry’s conspiracy against the white race.

We are more interested – which is to say, quite exasperated – by the refusal to fight back against such smears by wide sections of the left, including the Labour leadership and its outriders in Momentum and the like.

Even when the left fights back, it seems to capitulate. Take a piece from Jacobin by Daniel Finn, deputy editor of the New Left Review. It is vastly preferable to Richard Seymour’s spineless intervention, and is on the face of it precisely what we are after – a denunciation of the witch-hunt, an exposure of the defamers and their dishonest methods. Yet, for all that, comrade Finn is bizarrely keen to insist that there is a problem, even if it is not so crippling as all that. “There is no evidence that anti-Semitic views are more prevalent in Labour than in other parties,” he writes (emphasis added). “If the party has even a single member with anti-Semitic views, that’s a problem. Only a fool would claim that Labour has managed to eliminate every last trace of bigotry from its ranks”; and so on.

No offence

Things get weirder still when we get to the Chakrabarti report. Finn does a reasonable job of exposing the cynicism with which it is denounced as a “whitewash”, but then goes on to say:

Chakrabarti’s report contained some very sensible recommendations about language: she urged left activists to “use the term ‘Zionist’ advisedly, carefully and never euphemistically or as part of personal abuse” and to “resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons in debates about Israel/Palestine in particular”.

He then cites the Ken Livingstone affair as an example of how not to do things.

A famous saying, attributed to Edmund Burke, has it that for evil to triumph all that is necessary is for good people to do nothing. Yet we know that there are numerous kinds of inaction, and here we are faced by a very contemporary one. So we might rephrase the pseudo-Burke aphorism: all that is required for evil to triumph is for good people to silence themselves for fear of offending the evil-doers. The backsliding of Jeremy Corbyn and his clique is well documented in this paper, as is the timidity of Owen Jones on the question; and in last week’s edition the indefatigable Tony Greenstein dealt at length with the increasingly rudderless Richard Seymour’s platitudinous meanderings on the subject.

For what else are we to do with leftwingers who hem and haw about using the word ‘Zionist’ because it gives offence, or the admonition of our Jacobin writer that comparisons with the Nazis are out? If we were to take this offence-taking at its word, we should perhaps greet it as good news, for it would mean that Zionists – by taking fright at the use of their movement’s historic, self-chosen name – were ashamed of it. Perhaps they are finally learning! Perhaps when he described himself and the disgraced advertising mogul, Martin Sorrell, in their student days as “slightly leftwing Zionists” in the New Yorker recently, Simon Schama was launching at his younger self a vigorous piece of self-criticism.

Alas, we doubt it. What is going on is, in fact, far more mundane. When an anti-Zionist uses the word ‘Zionist’, they are by definition describing an enemy. Zionists, being possessed like all other humans with the capacity to resolve ambiguities in language, know that to the speaker the word ‘Zionist’ has negative connotations. There are only two ways to avoid using ‘Zionist’ as an insult. One is to use different words to express your criticism – but that merely shifts the problem, since no doubt being accused of ‘blood-and-soil nationalist colonialism’ is just as offensive as ‘Zionist’ when it comes down to it. The other is to not attack Zionism at all – either because one is a Zionist, or even indifferent to the question; or because one is intent on disarming oneself.

As for Nazi comparisons, what of them? If we can’t use Nazism, can we use apartheid, or the conquistadors, as points of reference? We merely end up asking our enemies for permission to criticise them. (Nobody asked any of us if it was all right to accuse us of anti-Semitism.) It is also worth noting that the Palestinian solidarity movement is not the only place where the comparison occurs to people: we commend to comrade Finn a fascinating and disturbing piece from Ha’aretz some years ago on the odd tendency for the Israeli security services themselves to throw out such comparisons: for example, a group of Israel Defence Forces soldiers, stationed in Ramallah during the first intifada, who nicknamed themselves the “Mengele squad”, out of some combination of nihilistic hatred and repressed guilt.

Our own petard

The question arises as to why our side is so paralysed. There is no shortage of anger about these scandalous smears; the rank-and-file of the Labour Party seems, at least since its explosion in size during and after Corbyn’s election, to be overwhelmingly pro-Palestinian. The Zionists and also opportunistically pro-Zionist rightwingers are loud, and they are nasty, and they have the media on their side, but they are numerically tiny. Yet they have a habit of outmanoeuvring our much more numerous troops, who – surely – have the potential to be far more militant than appears currently to be the case.

The explanation, so far as we can see, has two essential aspects to it. The first is that the left, including its socialist (and even revolutionary) components, has over time adopted an essentially liberal approach to overcoming oppression. In countries where Maoism was the prime beneficiary from the student movement of the 1960s, a policy of ‘alliances’ with organisations of the specially oppressed that gave the political lead to those organisations was a straightforward matter, authorised by popular frontism. In countries like Britain where Trotskyism did better, the ostensible approach was to turn discontent on the women’s, black, etc questions into militant action, in order to win leadership for the Marxists on those questions, but in reality that had the same result, where the Marxists ended up as ‘the best fighters’ (if they were lucky) on behalf of politics substantially set by the ‘self-organised’ oppressed.

As state policy turned from artificially propping up patriarchal family relations and white predominance in politics and economic life, however, the centripetal force of common struggle was overpowered by the centrifugal force of sectionalism. It became far more readily possible for oppressed groups to achieve some marginal advantage or another comfortably within the system. Whatever attraction revolutionary politics once had for people whose whole horizon was the women’s question, or the black question, was eroded. The left did not notice this change, however, and continued to trail increasingly anti-left forms of identity politics.

The result is that purely liberal identity politics has nearly uncontested ‘mindshare’ among the wider progressive and left milieus. And purely liberal identity politics has no answer to the problem of someone announcing that, as a Jew, they are very offended that leftwingers keep on going on about the crimes of Israel; to deny that this offence is legitimate is impossible without breaking with liberalism here, but by tailing liberalism we put people on our side in the impossible position of having to break with it as atomised individuals. They cannot, and do not.

From top down

Which leads us to the second problem, which is the problem of leadership.

There is a certain old-mannish tendency for grizzled left curmudgeons to complain about the state of the people who make up the hundreds of thousands who joined the Labour Party in its recent, fascinatingly turbulent period of life. The newcomers are young; they think everything is about the internet; they’re obsessed with celebrity, and just want their selfie with Jeremy; they don’t stand up straight; they should get off my lawn.

This tendency is to be rejected, as it curses us to complacency, but above all because the fact that we have a new generation at all, and have gotten some of the old generations back, is an extraordinary blessing, which we do not get often, least of all in the mostly bleak three decades to the present date.

Yet there is always a grain of truth to these things. In this case, it can hardly be denied that the political level of Corbynite Labour activists is very low, and does not seem to have risen at all in the last couple of years. No chinks have appeared in the armour of identity politics. No slogans have emerged as a stiffer alternative to ‘For the many, not the few’. Strikingly, there seems to have been no noticeable growth in the organised far left at all – not those parts of it energetically tailing Corbyn, not those taking a sectarian stand against it, nor any of the other approaches that have been tried. We starve amid plenty.

The truth is that everything depends on leadership. For somebody coming into the movement at this moment, there is a very clear candidate for the leadership – Corbyn. There is secondarily Momentum, which has made a few odd moves recently, but still enjoys the prestige inadvertently donated to it by the scurrilous attacks of the rightwing press. Both these loci of leadership tell people, first of all, to submit themselves to all the defects our grumpy old men list out above – Bonapartist hero-worship and so on. This is not some sort of cultural decline, but the result of people making the correct decision to get involved in the mass movement, and taking advice from the leaders of that movement as to what they ought to do. Those leaders are, precisely, grizzled leftwingers; they are ‘our kind of people’. It is us who are responsible for misleading those masses that a historical accident has thrown into motion, and who are trying to direct that motion.

The strategy of the movement’s leadership is to avoid as strenuously as possible conflict over issues which it does not plan to fight an election on, which in practice means issues that divide the Labour left from the centre. In practice, this means the single issue of austerity. So much the worse for the Palestinians; for the policy on Israel and fake anti-Semitism accusations is simply to give ground, again and again, to no noticeable effect. Why bother denouncing such allegations if even Ken Livingstone gets thrown to the wolves?

The abiding lesson of this fiasco, then, is a simple one: the time for Corbynite fanboyism is very much over.