My old political sparring partner, Bob from Brockley, has wide intellectual tastes, from anarchism to extraordinary musical endeavours and beyond.
But above all he is very charitable. He takes an interest in what ex-Socialist Workers Party members think and say. Notably the writings of Richard Seymour, one-time SWP intellectual and consummate blogger.
I can’t say I always agree with Bob’s approach, but I admire his persistence in keeping an eye on (ex) SWPers.
I am not terribly interested in Seymour or (ex) SWPers as people, rather the ideas that they put forward and represent, critically when it comes to antisemitism. I think it is worth commenting because there is a wider importance to this issue, how such attitudes help create a social climate that is hostile towards Jews.
A few thoughts.
It is my view that (ex) SWPers often share many characteristics of 1960s Stalinists in their attitude toward Jews, either disdainful or oddly ambiguous.
[NB: I should point out for the sake of clarity and before any misunderstanding occurs that. I do not believe that the vast majority of (ex) SWPers are hardened antisemites, instead the evidence shows they are tolerant of those who are, which is the distinction I am making. I could add I have known some quite decent SWPers when I was an active trade unionist, but this is a discussion about their attitudes and where they lead, not them as individuals.]
My basic problem with SWPers and (ex) SWPers is, how it is very apparent they have learnt little or nothing from their encounters with antisemites or antisemitism.
To learn is normally to admit we don’t know something. Or to concede we might have made a mistake and don’t wish to repeat it. As far as I can see that has not happened with most leading (ex) SWPers. There are two obvious examples, the Stop the War Coalition and Gilad Atzmon.
Further, if you investigate their site you will see only disdain for anything related to Jews (whatever guise that takes or whatever nickname is used). The Stop the War Coalition is run by a mix of ex-SWPers (Lindsey German, John Rees, etc), soft Stalinists and assorted types.
Yet you would be hard pushed to find any really significant critique from SWPers or (ex) SWPers of Atzmon.
That is despite the fact that the SWP supported and hosted this racist for years. Bob provides a great chronological guide, showing SWP’s support from 2004 to 2010.
And this is the disparity: how can people call themselves socialists, say they are opposed to antisemitism, yet allow their organisation to promote and aid an antisemite, Gilad Atzmon?
As far as I know, not a single SWPer resigned over their organisation’s support for that particular racist.
And intelligent people are compelled to ask why? Did their ingrained worship of Leninism override their antiracist principles? Was Atzmon’s racism really an issue for them? Did they grasp why they should oppose such an antisemite? Did it even register with them?
There are plenty of questions to ask, and whilst flippant answers may satisfy the intellectually barren (ex) SWPers, serious antiracists should not stop from questioning why it happened and what is to stop it happening again?
Atzmon is a litmus test as I previously wrote. The SWP and its members seriously failed that test, year after year.
SWPers and modern antisemitism
Any cursory examination of the Socialist Workers Party’s views around the topic of Jews reveal that the SWP have never had a sophisticated analysis of antisemitism. They fail to miss the most obvious signs.
But these are not thugs or ne’er-do-wells. The SWP leadership was over time replete with academics, educationalists and supposed antiracist activists. Whilst they may have been able to explain Marxist capital at great length SWPers couldn’t grasp the complexities of modern antisemitism.
It is not for want of intellectual gumption.
Instead it is how the (ex) SWPer’s view the world. It is a mechanical mindset, where Jews (whatever euphemism used), invariably, fall on one side and the (ex) SWPers and their allies are on the other.
That I find profoundly depressing, it is as if not one lesson has been learnt since their earlier collaboration with the racist Atzmon, even fewer questions have been asked.
In short, (ex) SWPers are really no wiser today than they were in 2009 when they continued to host Atzmon or in 2005 when the SWP issued a defence of him.
It is a truly lamentable situation for socialists to find themselves in, having a panoply of answers how to change the whole of the world for the better, yet not when the topic relates to Jews.
If you doubt my argument then at least consider the evidence or lack of it. On a weekly basis Jews are assaulted in Britain, yet with one small exception the main SWP publication, Socialist Worker, has never covered these incidents of physical antisemitism towards British Jews in any meaningful way. A plain disregard
I feel that shows a plain and simple disregard for Jews. However, I am sure that (ex) SWPers will find suitable excuses to explain it away, but would they take such a tack if any other ethnic minority was involved? Probably not.
Briefly, I don’t believe that the majority of (ex) SWPers are active antisemites, rather their political indoctrination means that when they deal with any topic relating to Jews they have a certain blind spot. The Atzmon debacle and the Stop the War coalition use of an antisemite’s material demonstrate this. It is apparent that since the SWP’s chumminess with an active racist, Atzmon, its many members and ex-members have learnt next to nothing.
Why is that an issue?
Because the SWP’s ex-members run some large organisations and have influence beyond their numbers. In turn their unchanged attitudes towards Jews can lead to a climate of hostility and aid racists, even if that is not their intention.
But more importantly, the SWP are part and parcel of the negative mood facing Jews in Britain. They do not throw bricks at synagogues instead they rant on about “Zionists” ad nauseam and help to perpetuate antagonism towards British Jews.
If SWP members and ex-members couldn’t resign on the principle of opposing racism when it came to Atzmon, what use are they? Have they no embarrassment now? Have they learnt anything at all?
The evidence suggests not, and that should worry anyone seriously opposed to antisemitism.
A few reminders about Atzmon and the SWP:
2004: “Gilad Atzmon will speak and perform on Tuesday 13 July at the Marxism 2004 festival and conference in London. You can find out more about his life and work at his website…”
2005: “The SWP does not believe that Gilad Atzmon is a Holocaust denier or racist. However, while defending Gilad’s right to play and speak on public platforms that in no way means we endorse all of Gilad’s views. We think that some of the formulations on his website might encourage his readers to feel that he is blurring the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti Zionism. In fact we have publicly challenged and argued against those of his ideas we disagree with.”
2005: “Gilad Atzmon is arguably the most outstanding artist to emerge on the British jazz scene in recent years. ”
2006: “Gilad declared, “I will be playing at the Cultures of Resistance concert because I support the Socialist Worker appeal.”
2007: “Readers of Socialist Review may know jazz musician Gilad Atzmon due to his Coltrane tour with Martin Smith and the Cultures of Resistance gig at this year’s Marxism.”
2007: “Gilad Atzmon is not racist” according to leading SWPers, Hannah Dee, Viv Smith and Lindsey German.
2007: Socialist Worker promoting: “A celebration of jazz musician Charlie Parker with Martin Smith and Gilad Atzmon. Includes launch of Gilad’s new album, Refuge ”
2008: “Gilad Atzmon celebrates Charlie Parker” [with Martin Smith]. Martin Smith was the SWP’s National Secretary and leading Central Committee member.
2009: “Disclaimer – I’ve never previously much liked Gilad Atzmon’s CDs. Live, he can be brilliant, with a bite and intensity that make him one of the best jazz artists working in Britain today. ”
2009: Atzmon hosted yet again at the SWP’s premier bookshop, Bookmarks.
2009: Atzmon argues “Throughout the centuries, Jewish bankers bought for themselves some real reputations of backers and financers of wars  and even one communist revolution ” A common neo-Nazi theme.
Astute readers will notice that it approvingly quotes from a neo-Nazi, Gordon Duff.
“JOAN RIVERS died in an endoscopy clinic
Where she was having her vocal chords examined.
Her voice had been getting raspier and raspier,
And recently she’d berated an interviewer
On leaving LAX, Los Angeles airport,
Who’d had the impudence to solicit her opinion
On the then current massacres in Gaza.
She turned on him angrily screaming
That she had “zero sympathy
For the civilians killed in Gaza”
Because “they had fair warning to get out, and they didn’t …
“So they deserve to die. They were told to get out.
“They didn’t get out. You don’t get out? you are an idiot.
“Hamas,” she continued, “was re-elected
By a lot of stupid people who don’t even own a pencil.
“At least the ones that were killed,” she added with a savage relish,
“Were the ones with very low I.Q.s.”
She then praised World War Two being ended by Hiroshima and Nagasaki
And she continued hoarsely shouting
At the interviewer who’d had the gall to ask her,
In view of her uncritical support for the Israeli State,
What were her feelings about the deaths of 1400 people:
“They started it. We now don’t count who’s dead.
“You’re dead, you deserve to be dead.”
In her snarling triumphalism
She was suggesting
That three hundred and seventy three children,
Killed by Israel’s ‘Protective Edge’,
Had brought their own deaths
“You’re dead, you deserve to be dead.”
However karma is also a bitch,
And shortly afterwards Rivers
Would lose her voice
And, worse still, upon her entering the endoscopy clinic
And being given an anaesthetic
She fell into a coma and died.
The friend of Nancy Reagan, the friend of Netanyahu,
And the friend and favoured wedding guest of Prince Charles,
She would dance attendance upon the rich and powerful
And make it clear that she held political opinions
That matched theirs. She’d play court jester
And then growl, “We must bomb the shit out of Iran”.
Her friend, the Prince, said that he was ‘deeply saddened’
By the comedian’s death
And, keen to identify himself with outpourings of showbiz grief,
He added that, “Joan Rivers was an extraordinary woman
“With an original and indefatigable spirit,
“An unstoppable sense of humour and an enormous zest for life.
“She will be hugely missed and utterly irreplaceable.”
In his dull insouciance the hapless Prince
Had overlooked the fact that his heroine,
Fawned upon in Hollywood as the ‘Duchess of Dirt’,
‘Queen Wise-Arse’, and the ‘Goddess of Snark’,
Had advised his future daughter-in-law, Kate Middleton,
‘If you ever want to go to Paris, fly, don’t take the tunnel.’
But perhaps he hadn’t really forgotten it –
Perhaps he’d perversely savoured Rivers’ sick reference
To his ex-wife’s untimely death…
And nor did Charles seem aware that,
Far from her being “irreplaceable”,
Much of Joan Rivers had been replaced by plastic.
Thanks to nearly three hundred operations
She’d become a smooth skinned gargoyle
Coated by a lustrous chemical sheen;
A reflective veneer on her tautened pink skin.
In 2010 she tweeted, “With all the plastic surgery I’ve had,
I’m worried when I die God won’t recognize me.”
The historian Alan Hart responded,
“If she was still alive today, I would say to her something like,
‘If he does recognize you, perhaps you should worry
About whether he will forgive you for saying
That, because they voted for Hamas,
The Palestinians of the Gaza Strip prison camp
Deserved what they were getting
When Israel was delivering them
More death and destruction.”
The commentator Gordon Duff had a less measured response:
“May a gaggle of flying blood monkeys escort her to the side of her creator”.
Others disobligingly wondered whether
Those disposing of her body would cremate her
Or would recycle her plastic corpse.
“I’ve had so much plastic surgery,” she’d declare,
“When I die they will donate my body to Tupperware.”
Although sadly, Tupperware might not think it served their brand –
Devoted to keeping food fresh in a hygienic fashion.
Most tragically of all, despite her surgery she was wistfully to confess,
“No man has ever, ever told me I’m beautiful.”
Maybe that was because there was an inner ugliness
That couldn’t be concealed by cosmetics:
The inner ugliness of a woman who’d often complain
How much she was inconvenienced by children on ‘planes
By saying “where is Casey Anthony when you need her?”
Casey Anthony being an infamous mother
Accused of killing her two-year-old daughter
By suffocating her with parcel tape;
Ugliest of all perhaps, Rivers took a hideous pride
In doing anything for money:
“For $500, I’ll write for Hitler,” she said.
There is now a new face in hell,
With its mouth made of collagen
And a voice that may mercifully be silent. “
They owe their existence to campaigning against the invasion of Iraq. They actively campaign on the Middle East and Afghanistan.
Yet for years they were silent on Assad’s slaughter of Syrian civilians. For the first years of the Assad dictatorship campaign of mass murder not a word of criticism was heard from Britain’s Stop the War Coalition.
They were always very quick to criticise British and US governments, but could barely mumble a single scornful word against Assad.
Nevertheless, this time around they have learnt their lesson.
“8) The historical divisions within Ukraine are complex and difficult to overcome. But it is clear that many Russian speakers, there and in the Crimea, do not oppose Russia. These countries have the right to independence, but the nature of that independence is clearly highly contested. There is also the reality of potential civil war between east and west Ukraine. The very deep divisions will only be exacerbated by war.
This comment is perhaps the easiest to rebut: Ms German is mistaking the Ukrainian protest movement for the aggressors in the current crisis. The new government in no way threatens Russian-speakers in the Crimea. Moscow, not Kiev, is the preeminent belligerent thus far.
9) Those who demand anti-war activity here in Britain against Russia are ignoring the history and the present reality in Ukraine and Crimea. The B52 liberals only oppose wars when their own rulers do so, and support the ones carried out by our governments. The job of any anti-war movement is to oppose its own government’s role in these wars, and to explain what that government and its allies are up to.
Ms German does not enlighten us on how, precisely, the British government is guilty of “war” against Ukraine or Russia. She also fails to explain why the “job” of an “anti-war” movement is to attack its own passive government while parroting the arguments of a thuggish, illiberal power threatening its neighbour with invasion.
10) The crisis in Ukraine has much to do with the situation in Syria, where major powers are intervening in the civil war. The defeat for intervention last year has infuriated the neocons. They are determined to start new wars. After the US failures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, the neocons are looking for a defeat of Russia over Ukraine, and by extension, China too. The situation is developing into a new cold war. The rivalry between the west and Russia threatens to explode into a much larger war than has been seen for many years.
Again, Ms German conveniently ignores interventions in Syria by those “major powers” that she finds more palatable than the US or Britain—Iran and Russia. That, and her comment about China, suggests a preference for illiberal non-Western powers over liberal Western ones. It is an oddly one-sided comparison: she delights in listing Western flaws (real and imagined) while unquestioningly accepting anti-Western dogma. For one who leads an organisation committed to “stopping the war”, it is a fatal error.”
Update 1:I have commented on Russia’s role in Syria before.
In each case, agendas were hoisted up and waved around. The far simpler answer that these individuals were troubled or possibly psychotic didn’t even come into it.
But the Woolwich murder was just one chance these political opportunists could not resist exploiting. Their own detachment from humanity means that the usual suspects can’t see anything objectivity, except as a opportunity to misuse, gaining publicity for their own largely irrelevant and sordid ideas.
In many respects, the usual suspects in Britain are similar to the National Rifle Association.
Not that they like guns, but they too have no insight or introspection so they bring out the same answers, no matter the questions.
Wait until the next atrocity occurs and the usual suspects will do the same, trot out their agendas looking for nails. It is small wonder that, after decades, they are political failures buried in the ramshackled ideologies of the 20th century.
It is time for less hammers looking for nails and a greater grasp of human psychology, even the psychotic side.
Update 1: I am in good company. Jonathan Freedland puts a similar but considerably better argued point:
“Yet when the killer’s cause is the matter of western intervention in Muslim countries, it seems some left voices find their previous fastidiousness has deserted them. Cue a BBC interview with Ken Livingstone, who spoke so powerfully after the 7 July bombings in London. Now, he linked Woolwich to Iraq, Afghanistan and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Enter the Stop the War coalition, whose statement on Woolwich similarly made the connection with “western foreign policy in the Middle East and south Asia”, ending with the declaration that events had proved their position “absolutely right”.
Be in no doubt, Livingstone and the anti-war movement would be appalled if their arguments were played back to them in reverse. Imagine what they would say to the claim that Breivik’s terror vindicated the old rivers-of-blood warnings, predicting that decades of multiculturalism would end in disaster, and now it was time to change course. Consider their reaction if the right had seized on the bombing of the Admiral Duncan pub in 1999, casting it as the inevitable result of a liberalisation of gay rights that was bound to radicalise a certain young male demographic and that therefore a policy shift was in order.
Of course they’d have rejected such logic utterly. But if it’s wrong for the right to seek vindication in acts of brutal violence, then it’s surely wrong for the left to do the same. Nor is it any good for the latter to say, “we’re not justifying, we’re simply explaining”: the right said the same about Breivik. Nor can they claim theirs is no more than a cold, analytical judgment, merely forecasting rather than endorsing the logical consequences of a current course of action. Their opponents could and did say the same about multiculturalism after Breivik. “
Update 3: Ken Livingstone has his say. Regrettably, he does not appreciate that some ex-politicians are better remaining silent or people might remember why he lost the voters’ confidence in the first place.
“What has happened is murder, plain and simple. Perhaps if we called it that it would be easier to solve and resolve, whereas if we call it terrorism we give the criminals a glamour and purpose they do not deserve.
Call them killers if they are proven to have killed, and deny them the right to cloak their brutality and lack of reason in a faith, a bad war or the innocents who have died as a result of things their victim had no control over.
I find it more terrifying that anyone thinks we should be scared of these people.
Killings like this don’t win any arguments or converts. If you feel you have to machete someone to death, you’ve already lost whatever point you were trying to make.
What scares me is that some people will exploit the actions of the criminally-deluded for their own ends.“
Update 6: Over a week on, Howard Jacobson nails the Culpability Browns of the world and where their thinking takes us:
“I say to listen, not necessarily to trust. In any circumstances it’s unwise to believe what people say about their motives. If Sophocles, Shakespeare and Freud didn’t teach us that, they didn’t teach us anything. And even to talk of “motives” is crude when it comes to the unseen and often unguessed-at impulses that drive us. But the reasons people give for why they act as they do at least paint a picture of what they think is inside their heads, if nowhere else, and that tells us something. It tells us who they’ve been listening to, for example, and what they’ve been reading. It sheds light on the culture of those we call terrorists – see how careful I’m being – if not their psychology. That it cannot be taken to reflect an impersonal or verifiable truth – any more than it is verifiably true that our rivals are monsters and our lovers paragons – needs no protesting.
Cometh the atrocity, cometh Culpability Brown. Does he wait like a spider suspended in the darkness, the opportunity to blame you and me again, reader, the reward for his infinitely banal persistence? Out into the light he crawls, anyway, in the immediate aftermath of every killing, to agree the crime is terrible, unspeakable, yes, but – ah, the callousness of that “but” – we had it coming.
In what other context, these days, do we allow people to tell us we have it coming? This one goes about with her handbag open, that one with his wallet protruding like a free gift from the back pocket of his jeans, complains the poor pickpocket. “I was provoked, your honour.” How the girls in their short summer dresses, flirty, drunken, free with their kisses, arouse the hapless rapist. “Aren’t they, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, in every meaning of the phrase, asking for it?”
This is not an argument against precaution. Though no provocation justifies a rape, it’s still sensible, given who we know is out there, to be on our guard. A sad reflection on the times, though one that has no bearing on the heinousness of the crime of rape itself.”
There is never enough time to read, reflect and blog, so whilst I think over other posts here is a quick round up of stories that caught my eye.
I was surprised to find that George Orwell had a piece on antisemitism. In many respects, it is as if it were written yesterday:
“I could fill pages with similar remarks, but these will do to go on with. Two facts emerge from them. One — which is very important and which I must return to in a moment — is that above a certain intellectual level people are ashamed of being anti-Semitic and are careful to draw a distinction between “anti-Semitism” and “disliking Jews”. The other is that anti-Semitism is an irrational thing. The Jews are accused of specific offences (for instance, bad behaviour in food queues) which the person speaking feels strongly about, but it is obvious that these accusations merely rationalise some deep-rooted prejudice. To attempt to counter them with facts and statistics is useless, and may sometimes be worse than useless. As the last of the above-quoted remarks shows, people can remain anti-Semitic, or at least anti-Jewish, while being fully aware that their outlook is indefensible. If you dislike somebody, you dislike him and there is an end of it: your feelings are not made any better by a recital of his virtues. “