The issue of Antisemitism is becoming a recurring theme within the Labour Party. Though Antisemitism is often seen as issue of the Right, due to the historic links between Right-wing politics and both Fascism and Nazism, Anti-Semitism is, despite the protests of some, a real issue for the Left and the Far Left. With Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader, the Labour Party has taken a significant step to the Left, the issue of Anti-Semitism and how the Labour Party deal with it is becoming a significant test for the Labour leader and the future of the Party.
The Far Left and Antisemitism
There have always been individuals who have mixed socialism and left-wing politics with anti-Semitism. Known as the Socialism of Fools by German Social Democrats in the 1890s, these individuals mixed opposition to capitalism and progressive, emancipatory politics that sort to liberate the working class from global finance with historic anti-semitic conspiracy theories in which it was “The Jew” who was behind the exploitative global financial system (Rich, 26th March 2018). This idea is encapsulated in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in the early 1900s, a fabricated document created in Russia claiming to show that Jewish leaders were establishing a land to take over the world (Segalov, 28th March 2018).
Historically, for the Left, the answer to anti-semitism facing Jews was for them to be assimilated in which they had civil rights but no right to self-determination as a people, in which Jewish identity would be dissolved by the push for universalism of the proletariat world revolution (Johnson, 26h March 2018). One could argue that this remains the same today; that the choice for Jews is to become increasingly less Jewish in every way shape or form possible and to have their right to self-determination, embodied by the State of Israel, removed. This is despite the European and Middle Eastern history has shown assimilation is not possible given the rise of Fascism and Nazism, the Holocaust, the effects of Stalinism and the expulsion of Jews from Arab countries following the birth of the State of Israel (Johnson, August 2015).
Mikhail Bakunin, the influential 19th century anarchist declared of the Jews as “one exploiting sect, one people of leeches, one single devouring parasite closely and intimately bound together not only across national boundaries but also across all divergences of political opinion” (Johnson, August 2015). His contemporary and influential political thinker, Karl Marx viewed the Jews as having a “huckstering” spirit (Regev, 6th October 2016).
In 1891, the Labour Leader, a newspaper connected to the Independent Labour Party, talked of the threat posed by the “hooked-nosed Rothchild”, a well-known Jewish banking family, stating “Wherever there is trouble in Europe, wherever rumours of war circulate and men’s minds are distraught with fear of change and calamity, you may be sure that a hooked-nosed Rothschild is at his games somewhere near the region of the disturbances” (Rich, 26th March 2018; Johnson, August 2015). Ruth Fischer, an influential German Communist declared “Whoever fights against Jewish capital … is already a class-fighter, even if he does not know it … Strike down the Jewish capitalists, hang them from the lamp posts!” (Johnson, August 2015).
In 1900, the British Trade Union Congress argued that the purpose of the Second Boer War was being to secure the lucrative gold reserves of the Transvaal and Orange Free States for “cosmopolitan Jews” whilst Keir Hardie argued that imperialism was being driven by Jewish financers (Rich, 26th March 2018). More recently these ideas of a Jewish conspiracy to manipulate both the Bush and Blair administrations into the 2003 Iraq War were circulated (Rich 26th March 2018).
As David Rich argued so well;
The Labour Party has treated cases of antisemitism amongst its members as random anomalies, as if they involve people who have wandered into the wrong party by mistake or used an unfortunate choice of words. This misses the point: the left has always had its own forms of antisemitism, well before Israel existed, and which appeal to people of a progressive mindset (23rd March 2018).
The Left’s issue with Jewish identity is far more deep-rooted and historic than the Israeli-Palestinian or Arab-Israeli conflicts. It is deeply ideological rather than contingent on the behaviour of the State of Israel towards its neighbours or indeed on the existence of the State of Israel. It is rooted in the connecting of exploitative capitalism to Jews and it is this linkage that must be cut once and for all if we are to see an end to anti-semitism in all its forms.
The “Hooked Rothchilde”
Clearly visible in the Mear One’s 2012 mural is the “anti-semitic trope”, the “hooked nosed money-obsessed Jewish financiers making their ill-gotten gains off the backs of the exploited” bearing similarities to the “hook-nosed Rothchild” referred to be the Labour Leader in 1891 (Rich, 26th March 2018; Jones, 30th March 2018). Mear One, himself confirmed that he had portrayed Rothchild as a demon in his mural (Jones, 30th March 2018).
The mural was condemned by Tower Halmet’s political leaders, uniting both the Labour Mayor Lutfur Rahman and Conservative group leader Peter Gold in an unusually political consensus between the two men (Rich, 26th March 2018). Jeremy Corbyn disagreed, opposing its removal. Though he has claimed that he was merely supporting freedom of expression, it is unconvincing that Corbyn had not aware of the anti-Semitic allegations against the mural and irrespective of this choose to offer his support for Mear One (Rich, 26th March 2018).
The question we are left with is an awkward one and one that David Rich outlines: that Jeremy Corbyn either doesn’t understand or recognise anti-Semitism in which case his claims to oppose it are worthless or he does recognise it and is content to ignore it for ideological reasons, namely the critiquing of global finance. The issue then is not that Jeremy Corbyn “indulges in antisemitism himself, but that he has a record of indulging the antisemitism of others” (Rich, 26th March 2018; Johnson, August 2015).
In my personal opinion, the answer to this question is that Corbyn probably does understand and recognise anti-semitism and though genuinely opposed to it himself, is not inclined to counter it in others within his party, for example his long-time ally Ken Livingstone, whose suspension from the party was expanded recently, despite a string of accusations of antisemitism, both historic and contemporary, because of ideological reason. As both Livingstone and Corbyn stand on the Left of the Party, it likely that Corbyn turns a blind eye to Livingstone’s behaviour because of their shared ideological stances on other policy areas and issues (Elgot, March 1st, 2018).
As Owen Jones recently argued, the crucial and systemic way forward is political education: individuals need to understand the history of anti-semitism, it tropes and subtleties. I would argue, that the Labour Party and the Left in general need to recognise the clear historic examples of anti-semitism made by the Left. Crucially the historic Socialism of Fools needs to be finished off for good and the connection made between global finance and the Jews needs to be eradicated from Left-wing thinking.
Photograph: The Guardian
Article by David Wilcox
Elgot, Jessica, The Guardian (1st March 2018), “Labour extends Ken Livingstone’s suspension over antisemitism claims” available at https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/mar/01/labour-extends-ken-livingstones-suspension-over-antisemitism-claims [Accessed on 2nd April 2018]
Johnson, Alan, “The Left and the Jews: Time for a Rethink” Fathom (August 2015) available at: http://fathomjournal.org/the-left-and-the-jews-time-for-a-rethink/ [Accessed on 31st March 2018]
Jones, Owen, Huck Magazine (Friday 30th March 2018) “The cure to ‘left-wing` anti-semitism is political education” available at: http://www.huckmagazine.com/perspectives/opinion-perspectives/labour-anti-semitism-political-education-owen-jones/ [Accessed on 31st March 2018].
Rich, David, The New Statesman, (23rd March, 2018) “The Labour Party’s history reminds us there have always been left-wing anti-semitism” available at: https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2018/03/labour-party-s-history-reminds-us-there-have-always-been-left-wing-anti-semites [Accessed on 31st March 2018]
Regev, Mark, The Guardian (6th October 2016), “Remember Cable Street, when the labour movement and Zionists were allies” available at: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/commentisfree/2016/oct/06/cable-street-labour-chakrabarti-report-zionism-antisemitism [Accessed on 31st March 2018]
Segelov, Mike, The Guardian (Wednesday 28th March 2018) “If you can’t see antisemitism, its time to open your eyes” available at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/28/antisemitism-open-your-eyes-jeremy-corbyn-labour [Accessed on 31st March 2018]