The SWP, racism and Gilad Atzmon

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.

Bob gave space over to a fellow intellectual to examine Seymour’s views on the recent Paris attack.

I can’t say I always agree with Bob’s approach, but I admire his persistence in keeping an eye on (ex) SWPers.
SWPfist1
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.

SWPers

It is my view that (ex) SWPers often share many characteristics of 1960s Stalinists in their attitude toward Jews, either disdainful or oddly ambiguous.

I am not the first to come to this conclusion as the socialist Steve Cohen argued it years back.

[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.

Atzmon talks with another racist, Ken O'Keefe
Atzmon talks with another racist, Ken O’Keefe

Too close to antisemites

The fact that the Stop the War Coalition couldn’t see any problem using the works of the antisemite Alison Weir (not the historian) is simply astounding.

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.

Whereas Gilad Atzmon is a prolific antisemite, despite once being an Israeli. For well over a dozen years Atzmon has had exceedingly questionable views concerning Jews. He never misses a chance to employ barely concealed antisemitic conspiracy theories or support those who do.

SWP hosted a racist

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.
Dark clouds
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.

A climate

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…”

2004: Richard Seymour on Atzmon. His advice was ignored for the next seven years.

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 [2] and even one communist revolution [3]” A common neo-Nazi theme.

2012: Atzmon joins the neo-Nazi site, Veterans Today.

2013: My short piece, The death agony of the SWP

2014: Gilad Atzmon praises ex-KKKer David Duke

2014: Atzmon support for Holocaust Revisionists.

2015: Atzmon thinks the Paris shooting was a false flag. That is antisemite-speak for “Jews did it”.

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A Few Thoughts on Thatcher’s demise

Had you asked me five or ten years ago what I thought of Margaret Thatcher then I would have let forth a stream of invective and only subsided as my blood pressure reached a critical point.

But now on reflection I am not sure I could do the same. That is not to say I do not loathe every facet of Thatcher’s governments, but I feel we should avoid overly simplifying our reactions to her demise.

I think it is necessary to separate out the person from the politics and the wider consequences.

Consequences

Looking at the latter first. It is hard to describe to contemporary generations what Britain was like some 40 years ago. Not only in terms of lack of technology, variation or the comparatively insular nature of society back then. Whole books have been written on the political, economic and social legacy of Thatcherism, instead I would sum those changes up in two words, privatisation and profit.

When you look at fragmented British society with its extremes of wealth and poverty that is a legacy of Thatcherism. Where other European countries have public utilities running public services Britain has a range of private monopolies, which yearly attack people’s pockets. Other countries have joined up transport and infrastructure, Britain has Thatcher’s legacy.

Nevertheless, she cannot take all of the blame, numerous politicians, some even found in public life today (Michael Portillo is but one example) were key advocates of Thatcher’s myopic policies back then.

The politics

Thatcherism has had a profound political influence in Britain, all major political parties eventually succumb to its ideas, one way or the other. The notion that the market could fix everything, or nearly everything, has been adopted by both Conservative and Labour Party. Tony Blair, was obviously from the outset an admirer of Margaret Thatcher, brought those maligned policies into the Labour Party. This can be seen by the fool hardly and dangerous changes to the NHS over the past 16 years.

But the adoption of manic pro-market politics cannot be blamed solely on Thatcher. While she was a vehicle and obvious face of those wretched ideas, others chose to pick up the policies and articulate them, with the resultant mess that we see in Britain today: scarcely any manufacturing, poor public services, poorer infrastructure and a seriously divided society

The person

Margaret Thatcher was a singularly clever individual, who crawled her way to the top of the Conservative Party. When they had no use for her she was stabbed in the back and thrown aside.

If newspaper reports are to be believed, she suffered numerous ailments, the loss of a husband and serious dementia which is punishment enough for one person

But the other individuals, who articulated or benefited from her policies, have greater culpability.

Thatcher alone was not to blame for Britain’s adoption of vicious pro-market attitudes. Thatcher alone was not to blame for profiteering. Thatcher cannot be blamed, solely, for a financial sector, which is a law unto itself. She, alone, cannot be blamed for the lifelong misery, unemployment and destitution which resulted from her and subsequent governments’ policies.

Tory_cab2

Many, many others are to blame, as well.

She died as a sad, confused individual. A failure.

More is the pity that the pro-market nonsense she articulated can not be buried at the same time.
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