Out September 15th: “Syriza – Inside the Labyrinth”

syriza_ovendenBy Pluto Press (200 pages | 5 x 7 3/4 | © 2015).

With a Foreword by Paul Mason.

In January 2015, Syriza, the Coalition of the Radical Left, became the largest party in the Hellenic Parliament, winning 149 out of 300 seats and badly defeating the then-ruling conservative New Democracy party. In Syriza, Kevin Ovenden presents an in-depth analysis of the political events leading up to this seemingly sudden reversal of political power in Greece, exploring the origins of the turbulent Greek political climate, from the beginnings of the Communist Party of Greece and the Greek workers’ movement following the First World War, to the brutal civil war that shook the country in the aftermath of the Second World War; the rise and fall of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement and the growth of radical politics in the 1970s; and finally the crushing austerity demands following the debt crisis of the 2010s.

Ovenden also examines the far-right movements in Greece as well, focusing in particular on the negative impact that the xenophobic and nationalistic Golden Dawn party has had and continues to have to this day.

Syriza’s victory in Greece is a central event of the twenty-first century, whose ramifications are sure to be felt for decades.

Go to Pluto Press to order your copy.

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The left has no need to be defensive over anti-semitism – a response to Rachel Shabi and why Marxism helps

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Ugandan Asians arriving in Britain after being expelled by Idi Amin. The Marxist tradition has more to say about racism than just “divide and rule” of the poor and workers

Rachel Shabi is a strong supporter of the “Corbyn project” and makes many interventions defending it from right wing critics. But I found this well intentioned piece aiming to do that unnecessarily defensive, mistaken and detached from the social reality on both sides of the Atlantic.

That is of anti-Muslim racism being both most prevalent and the leading edge of other racist ideologies and practices, including anti-semitism, driven as it is primarily from the far right.

It runs with an idea, popularised on parts of the left by the Canadian critic Moishe Postone among others, that anti-semitism has a uniqueness as a form of racism in that it is directed at those (falsely) assumed to be powerful as opposed to the inferior “black” targets of other racisms.

Thus, says Shabi, the left has a blindspot to this kind of racism compared with other forms directed “downwards” at the supposedly powerless, less civilised and in wont of guidance or, possibly, racialised exclusion. The kind of racism often directed at Black or Asian immigrants.

This is an old line of argument going back decades. It has its origins in zionist ideologues claiming that anti-semitism is not only trivially unique – in the sense that all racisms (all phenomena) are literally unique – but that it is radically unique, an “ancient hatred” (Shabi) or “the longest hatred” (see titles of many books and articles over the last 50 years).

There are several problems with this.

First, it effaces the actual radical difference between the modern, racialised anti-semitism that was forged in the 19th century using the pseudo-science of race – arising out of that foundational event of modern capitalism, the transatlantic slave trade – with earlier, medieval reactionary ideas and superstition.

Of course, one drew on the other and ideas morphed in the early modern period up to the birth of industrial capitalism proper. But there was a decisive transformation into a modern racist ideology and not an “ancient” religious superstition. Modern anti-semitism required the ideological apparatus of modern racism.

And that arose from the confluence of capitalism and the enslavement of Black African people, and then the massive expansion of European colonialism, just at the point where pre-modern bans on Jewish participation in public life were being removed in western Europe.

Second, it does not pay attention to the other side of anti-semitic ideology in addition to the conspiracy about a powerful and hidden elite manipulating the modern world of finance on a global scale. And that side is simple, dehumanising, animalistic imagery that has also been (and remains) directed at racialised immigrants or poor people per se.

Michael Rosen recently drew attention on Twitter to the most notoriously anti-semitic poem in the English language – Thackery’s “The White Squall” in the early Victorian period. Hold your stomach, here’s a stanza:

“Strange company we harbored,
We’d a hundred Jews to larboard,
Unwashed, uncombed, unbarbered—
Jews black, and brown, and gray;
With terror it would seize ye,
And make your souls uneasy,
To see those Rabbis greasy,
Who did naught but scratch and pray:
Their dirty children puking—
Their dirty saucepans cooking—
Their dirty fingers hooking
Their swarming fleas away.”

These kinds of images played large in the Nazi imaginarium in the 1920s against the “Ostjuden” immigrants from the poor villages of the Pale of Settlement alongside bilge about established German, assimilated Jews being secret manipulators of the nation’s finances, its labour movement and its woes.

Third, it is not true that anti-semitism is the only form of racism or ethnic prejudice that has involved claims that the target is actually powerful, not primarily less civilised and inferior (though all racism logically entails some projection of inferiority on the victim).

The racism experienced by Chinese diaspora communities in parts of east Asia, including pogroms (a part of the counter revolutionary terror in Indonesia in 1965-66, for example), held the Chinese as both filthy parasites and as a hidden power. That was via the role of many Chinese families as long distance merchants and therefore money exchangers and the assumption that they, not economic forces, moved events.

The same was true of anti-Asian racism in Malawi, Uganda and Kenya. The South Asian minorities in those countries, where they formed a disproportionate number of traders and petty money lenders, were viciously targeted by those post-independence leaders such as Idi Amin who failed to confront the actual power of the post-colonial imperialist order so lashed out at the Asian minority instead.

They were accused of being essentially “white” and collaborators of the old colonial white master against the Black African. Many East African Asians had to flee. This was a serious racism.

Or take the Mediterranean Greek diaspora in pre-1950s Egypt and the Middle East. They had a high proportion of merchants (of course most were not) and the characteristic of being a local expression of a presumably compact and auto-loyal, “clannish” transnational, transstate “people”.

The Nasser regime in newly independent Egypt turned away from a path of truly radical economic and social transformation to a state-led, capitalist development in alliance with rich and powerful Egyptian families. So it scapegoated the Greek and Jewish minority bourgeois and communities as a whole in an effort at nationalist, sectarian cover. Greek families left Alexandria accused not of being a primitive race but of being a hidden, powerful plot against the Egyptian Arab nation.

There are other examples, such as forms of racialised prejudice and violent eruptions in parts of West Africa by a “Black” majority against a “Black” minority. There is an extensive literature looking at specific examples and, less frequently, making useful comparison.

Whether or not they reference him, many theorists owe a debt to the Belgian Jewish Marxist Abram Leon, who perished in Auschwitz at the age of 36. His The Jewish Question – a marxist interpretation remains pathbreaking in its method and introduction of universal concepts that may account for the particularities of European anti-semitism while also providing a tool for understanding the range of other racisms alluded to above.

Leon uses the concept of a “people-class” to look at how a particular ethnic or religious group might, by dint of a disproportionate role in the pores or interfaces or interstices of a society, come to be racialised through being held to be responsible for the ills of that society, particularly at moments of crisis or in periods of rapid, destabilising change.

There is a broad similarity in the position of the East Asian Chinese, the Middle Eastern Greek, the East African Asian and the European Jew – at different dates and with the anti-semitic construction of “Jews” in Europe being the paradigm, but explicable by universal concepts and the emergence of modern society, capitalism, nonetheless.

We need not take every word of Leon as scripture. There has been lots of research since – though a remarkable amount either confirms or is compatible with his basic scheme.

What is important, I’d say, is to bring these traditions of Marxism, or of serious work that engages with it (even if not acknowledged) to bear in the political and ideological debates today.

Shabi chides the left with having a blind spot over the particular character of anti-semitism. That may be true of either simplistic “divide and rule”, essentially social democratic theories of racism, or of their twin, “privilege theories” of racism. But it is not true of historical materialism or of Marxism.

Judgements of that tradition may be right or wrong and must certainly be held up to intellectual, practical and political scrutiny. But that tradition has taken these matters very seriously. And it has looked at those racisms that serve as a false worldview of the impersonal movement of economic and social forces and as racialisation of people other than the poorest sections of the working class.

For those reasons, the Marxist left can help those trying to defend the Corbyn project by providing stronger arguments, a better theory and, on that basis, being far less defensive.

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All together for the Unity March against racism and fascim

 

 

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The Anti Nazi League/Rock Against Racism demonstration to the carnival in Victoria Park, East London, in 1978 

Well done to all those involved in pulling together the call for a massive national demonstration in London on 17 November against racism and the fascist threat.

It already seems to be generating enthusiasm and it’s clear that the potential number of organisations, campaigns and affinity groups that may throw themselves into it is huge.

I think it’s a crucial initiative, but also a challenge to turn it into an event that can have a decisive political impact.

Why is the demonstration so important?

There has since the shockingly large and violent turnout of the far right in central London in June been a gathering and unifying chorus across the labour movement to build upon the already strong anti-racist efforts in order to produce an even more massive response.

Incidentally, the far right are not abstractly mulling whether “demonstrations matter”. They got a huge boost from that historically large (for them) demonstration and they hope to replicate that with pro-Robinson demonstrations up and down the country.

They saw the interrelationship between a big national event and myriad efforts to build support locally, in different areas, various workplaces and communities. All then drawn back together to have national political effect.

The left has long understood this in Britain. It was one of the mechanisms that underpinned the mass movements against fascism in the 1970s and 1990s, for example.

There was a direct interplay in the Anti Nazi League and Rock Against Racism between setting in advance what became known during the anti-capitalist movement at the start of this century as national “convergence points” and a flowering of local initiatives.

Those included the establishment of a mass, democratic cordon sanitaire around the fascists and racist right – opposing them marching, meeting, being treated as normal politicians in the media, having access to working class organisation such as union meetings and tenants groups…

This interplay – or dialectic, if you prefer – is well summed up by Red Saunders, one of the founders of Rock Against Racism.

It was launched via a letter from socialists in the music scene to the NME in 1976. Red describes getting huge numbers of letters back to the PO Box address in support.

One was typical. A school student from a small town asking if there was a RAR group nearby. Red explains:

“We sent him back a thank you note, a load of stickers and badges and said, ‘You are now the official RAR in your area. Here’s some material to get going. Let us know what you get up to so others can hear about it.’ That was it. That was crucially how RAR grew.”

The late Darcus Howe described how the big, national movement against the fascist threat of the National Front and against the most easily understood and violent racism helped “clear the ground”.

In that space, the Black and Asian revolutionary and radical movements of the 1970s also flourished and the more difficult issues of institutionalised racism and false or xenophobic ideas about immigration could be challenged.

A result was that the riots of 1981 under Thatcher were not “race riots” but multiracial urban uprisings, led by young Black working class people, against police racism and mass unemployment.

The same dynamic was apparent with the last “Unity Demonstration” against the fascist British National Party in October 1993.

It was called after the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence in April that year, building upon considerable and varied anti-fascist campaigning up to that point.

In between, in early September, the BNP managed to win a council by-election on the Isle of Dogs in East London. It sent a shockwave. That powered a massive turnout for the unity demonstration to close down the BNP headquarters in Welling, south east London.

That, in turn, fed back into systematic campaigning in East London and across the country. It also prompted a hitherto passive TUC to call – and to build – a demonstration in Tower Hamlets in March of 1994 which played a big role in focusing the successful efforts to defeat the BNP at the elections in May.

At the time, I lived in Manor Park in neighbouring Newham and was active in building the anti-fascist movement just up the road in Ilford and Redbridge, and supporting efforts in Romford and Havering.

We took four coaches to Welling and others made their own way down. One aspect of that has some relevance today, given the summer of smears.

Redbridge has a significant Jewish community. The rise of the BNP had a contradictory impact. Many Jewish people were obviously alarmed and wanted to do something.

But then as now (and as in the 1930s) the official, often Tory-aligned communal leaderships counselled passivity and certainly avoiding the left.

So there were debates and arguments. But large numbers of young (and not so young) Jewish people rallied to an active campaign against fascism and racism, alongside the left, Muslim, Asian, Black and other groups. We were greatly assisted by the late Leon Greenman, a Holocaust survivor who lived in the area and put a potent, unifying message. He gave the same speech to Jewish youth groups as to Muslim congregants.

A similar process drove the extraordinary growth of the Stop the War movement a decade later: big national focuses (including the largest demonstration in British history) flowing out of and feeding back into creative and diverse campaigning in all areas.

By “all areas” I mean the small towns and often villages, and not just in the city centres of the big conurbations in Britain. I mean the tube or direct works depot, and not just the officers of the union representing those workers. I mean the local football ground, and not just the local mosque – though the mobilisation of Britain’s immigrant communities has been central to both the anti-racist and anti-war movements. It means the local pub on that “sink estate” and not just the trendy, LGBT-friendly bar in the city centre.

It seems to me that this is the common feature that the actor Christopher Eccleston, RMT union leader Mick Cash, Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell, the ANL and RAR founders, Stand Up To Racism, Unite Against Fascism, Stop the War, much of the left media, figures in Momentum and many others have in mind as they refer to reproducing that kind of experience, in contemporary conditions, to crush the nascent fascist threat today.

Restating the line of division

This is a big step forward. In responding to it, the call for the demonstration on 17 November raises the stakes. For it poses the challenge of moving beyond the idea of a mass, militant movement to making it a practical reality. It is only in the effort to do that that the strategies for how to do so may be put to the test and made real.

The timing of the initiative could scarcely be better. It provides a clear focus in advance for the left, which has had for much of the summer only reactive (if very good) events in a period since the anti-Trump protests in which the right in all sorts of ways has been able to set the agenda – at least in the media.

Matters are volatile and no one knows the precise course of events over the next 12 weeks. There will be things to respond to. But we do know that this big focus for the movement is happening and will take place right in the middle of the most incendiary rows in the Tory government, the Tory party and parliament over the Brexit question.

We know further that parts of the Tory right – most obviously Boris Johnson – and the far right will seek to deploy racism in order to address and build out of that crisis. The most racist elements of Leave.EU have joined the Tory party and are encouraging others to in order to support Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg. And it is plainly obvious that the Establishment as a whole is prepared to trivialise that because its concern is to turn the turmoil into a crisis of the left-led Labour Party.

The 17 November is part of the antidote to that. Racism or opposition to the far right threat is not a Leave/Remain question. Most people, including most of those who voted Leave, are for full rights of EU nationals in Britain.

While horribly high, the figures for anti-Muslim racism in Britain are lower than in most of Europe. Xenophobic attitudes over immigration have fallen over the last two years. Yet Trump at the same time gives a massive boost to those agitating for racist politics. And the support from the US and European far right for the fascists in Britain is not just in morale. It includes considerable material assistance.

So there is a potential active anti-racist majority, but also a very serious threat from the far right – which is lifted by every smear against Corbyn and the left. It also has breathing space every time the left is hesitant, absent from mass politics, not agitating on the streets or in the communities and workplaces, or in other ways passively waiting for the “government in waiting” to come to office.

In such circumstances, 17 November offers an alternative to the liberal counsel of despair that would have anti-racism an expression of just a part of 48 percent of the population who voted Remain in 2016. A permanent minority.

On the contrary, this has to be a majority movement. And for that reason – echoed by all sorts of people on the left – such a movement cannot be divided by the Brexit question. The line of division is the far and racist right, including in the Tories, and those who want to oppose them actively – with a battle to win those in between everywhere.

The anti-racist and anti-fascist coalition Merseyside Together this summer took en masse a message to football fans. It did not restrict in advance who it would engage with according to what “tribe”, political or otherwise, they belonged to. It handed out thousands of leaflets and had hundreds of conversations at both Anfield and Goodison Park.

There is a further reason, for those of us on the anti-capitalist left, why 17 November has such significance. It is best explained in this reflection by the late Marxist critic and theorist John Berger in 1968. It is powerful precisely because he addresses in the autumn of that year of revolutionary upheaval the hard question. What does a demonstration achieve? Isn’t it, by definition, just a gesture – an act of showing, or demonstrating, opposition, but not really changing anything?

Instead of retreating to a pragmatic argument about just “doing something” he explains how the mass demonstration plays its part in the “rehearsal” of revolutionary awareness, a link in the chain of moving beyond a temporary mobilisation and fleeting feeling of power to forms of struggle that do not merely demonstrate but take on and exercise real power.

You ought to read the whole thing, but here’s an excerpt:

“The demonstration, an irregular event created by the demonstrators, nevertheless takes place near the city centre, intended for very different uses. The demonstrators interrupt the regular life of the streets they march through or of the open spaces they fill. They cut off these areas, and, not yet having the power to occupy them permanently, they transform them into a temporary stage on which they dramatise the power they still lack.

“The demonstrators’ view of the city surrounding their stage also changes. By demonstrating, they manifest a greater freedom and independence – a greater creativity, even although the product is only symbolic – than they can ever achieve individually or collectively when pursuing their regular lives. In their regular pursuits they only modify circumstances; by demonstrating they symbolically oppose their very existence to circumstances.

“This creativity may be desperate in origin, and the price to be paid for it high, but it temporarily changes their outlook. They become corporately aware that it is they or those whom they represent who have built the city and who maintain it. They see it through different eyes. They see it as their product, confirming their potential instead of reducing it.”

Such an understanding is not a prerequisite for taking part in or building 17 November. All that’s required for that is to want to take a stand against racism and the far right threat. And that sentiment – we should be aware – can be as strong in a Methodist church group as it is at a Marxist discussion meeting.

But it is a very useful understanding for anti-capitalists who in driving forward this big initiative see it as a strategic part of a process of militant struggle leading to a truly radical transformation of Britain.

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Defend Corbyn and the left – no retreats before the slander

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Jeremy Corbyn speaking at the 80th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Cable Street in East London in 1936 that stopped Oswald Mosley’s fascists marching through the area

The demand that Labour adopt a contested definition of anti-semitism is not about some choice of words or about fighting racism. It is about breaking the left and progressive movements as a political force in Britain. This legal opinion by Hugh Tomlinson QC explains much of what is wrong with the IHRA “working definition” of anti-semitism.

There is also this excellent piece in the London Review of Books last year by former Court of Appeal judge Stephen Sedley. When we see what is seriously wrong with this definition and document the Labour leadership is under pressure to adopt, the wider purpose of the attacks and slurs becomes clear.

Among other points Sedley highlights this from the IHRA definition:

“Manifestations [of anti-semitism] might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.

“Applying double standards by requiring of [the state of Israel] a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour.”

He explains the serious problems with all that:

“The first and second of these examples assume that Israel, apart from being a Jewish state, is a country like any other and so open only to criticism resembling such criticism as can be made of other states, placing the historical, political, military and humanitarian uniqueness of Israel’s occupation and colonisation of Palestine beyond permissible criticism.

“The third example bristles with contentious assumptions about the racial identity of Jews, assumptions contested by many diaspora Jews but on which both Zionism and anti-Semitism fasten, and about Israel as the embodiment of a collective right of Jews to self-determination.”

It’s worth expanding on those points. Do all claims at all times by any group to nationhood and “self-determination” have to be accepted? Is it racist to deny any such claim? And should it be against the law or rules of, say, the Labour Party?

Clearly, that cannot be the case. All but hardened racists deny the “right to self-determination” of white supremacists claiming a “right” to a separate white state in South Africa.

Is it racist to deny a claimed “right” of the Loyalist minority in Ireland as a whole to a partitioned statelet in the north that means a sectarian set up that continues to this day?

The whole point is that Israel’s actualisation of a claim to self-determination is based upon the dispossession and exclusion of the Palestinians. There is a clash of rights claims, at the very least. But what this definition does is deny the validity, indeed to declare as racist, the central Palestinian claim to name the source and process of their dispossession.

Palestinian self-determination must surely mean the right to have their story told and heard – that the creation of the state of Israel and its continuation as a Zionist endeavour means the oppression of the Palestinians and their racial exclusion.

That brings us to two softening up arguments doing the rounds this weekend to smooth the path to getting the Labour leadership to capitulate on this question.

Unison union leader Dave Prentis gave legs to the first in an article yesterday claiming that the IHRA definition does not stop criticism of Israel or supporting Palestinian rights.

There is a sleight of hand here. Of course it does not stop all criticism of Israel. Even US president George Bush “criticised” the expansion of settlement building on the West Bank.

But it polices that criticism so that any fundamental opposition to Israel as a colonial-settler state based, therefore, on a necessarily racist exclusion of the Palestinians and a particular form of apartheid is not only illegitimate, but racist.

So you may criticise “excesses” but not the underlying reason for them. An entire political position shared by most Palestinians, Jewish opponents of the political doctrine of Zionism, and much of the left is banned. You may have all sorts of criticisms, so long as they all accept the central claims of the Zionist ideology at the heart of the state of Israel and that its structures cannot be questioned to the point of denying their “right to exist”. It is, of course, state structures that are being given this right – not people. You may criticise, but not oppose.

There is a self-serving contradiction in the IHRA text. You may criticise Israel as you would any other state, but defined as “a democratic nation”. That means you cannot criticise it as not being a democratic nation and say why it is necessarily undemocratic.

You cannot challenge a central propaganda claim by defenders of the state of Israel that it is “the only democracy in the Middle East”. You may not question its democratic status, mounting the argument that as no democracy can be based upon the expansionist racial exclusion of people from their homes and land, Israel is not a democracy just like any other.

Thus you may not compare it with apartheid South Africa, now nearly universally deplored: because few would say that apartheid South Africa was a “state like any other” and Israel may only be considered a state like any other. In reality, you cannot properly criticise the fundamental character of the state itself.

You may say that Israel should not put Palestinian children in prison through military courts. You may not say that the Palestinian children are right to say – as increasing numbers do – that the Oslo process is dead and their future depends on dismantling the Zionist structure of the Israeli state and its replacement with a single and truly democratic state for Muslim, Christian and Jew living in this part of the world or exercising their rights as refugees to return.

And if, like Barack Obama’s secretary of state John Kerry, you say that Israel can either be a Jewish state or a democratic state, but not both, then on this definition you could be accused of anti-semitism for “denying the right of Jews to self-determination”.

A hindrance to fighting real anti-semitism

The second softening up argument is that none of those accusations will be made if we just get on with accepting, for “tactical reasons”, this flawed and politicised definition. Or, if they are made, then people genuinely not anti-semitic can prove their innocence.

That is a shocking reversal of the burden of proof. The vague wording of the definition allows for such false accusations – and we are seeing them all the time – but the remedy is then to “prove your innocence”.

It is difficult to think of a greater inhibition on free speech or chilling effect – and that is precisely how this is being used. It is impossible to outlaw all criticism of Israel. The aim of this conflation of anti-semitism with anti-zionism is to limit such criticism to within the bounds that might be found on a good day from some progressive Democrat in the US Congress. That is someone who feels she really ought this time to call for “restraint” by Israeli forces using live sniper rounds against Palestinian civilians, and adds immediately that the Palestinians must “stop their attacks” also.

The target is the Corbyn leadership of the Labour Party and also the whole left. That is not arising out of some groundswell support for the state of Israel or its policies. The opposite has been happening for years. A BBC poll earlier this year found 66 percent of people in Britain critical or “very critical” of Israel. The new head of the Jewish Agency, a pro-Israel organisation, Isaac Herzog, warned this week:

“… I’m very aware of the growing feeling that Diaspora Jews are drifting away from Israel. I will do everything in my power to act against this trend that’s increasingly dividing us.”

And for well over a decade survey after survey on both sides of the Atlantic has recorded declining support for Israel and a loosening affinity with it among Jewish communities. It is this that the right wing political offensive in Britain is designed to put a stop to by squeezing it out of the official political space. In so doing, of course, it provides a weapon to try to undermine and, they hope, oust the Labour leadership.

That hope rests not upon a swing in social attitudes but on some serious weaknesses on parts of the left that have set a course of capitulation on this question – the two arguments considered above being the latest staging posts to ignominious collapse.

As I argued in this Facebook post, it is naive in the extreme to imagine that if the Labour leadership does a U-turn and caves in this September, then there will be peace and goodwill in the Labour Party:

“On the contrary. Not only will they press on to oust the Labour leadership, it will have given them an arsenal to do so.

“For it will instantly mean that every single speech, article and intervention over decades by left wingers and supporters of the Palestinians in the Labour Party – at all levels – will be scrutinised to identify where they breach the new definition.

“And large numbers of them will – for people have been criticising Israel fundamentally and entirely legitimately for decades.”

Tomlinson points to how already under the IHRA definition the following positions have been charged with being anti-semitic:

  • Describing Israel as a state enacting policies of apartheid.
  • Describing Israel as a state practising settler colonialism.
  • Describing the establishment of the State of Israel and the actions associated with its establishment, as illegal or illegitimate.
  • Campaigning for policies of boycott divestment or sanctions against Israel, Israeli companies or international companies complicit in violation of Palestinian human rights (unless the campaigner was also calling for similar actions against other states).
  • Stating that the State of Israel and its defenders “use” the Holocaust to chill debate on Israel’s own behaviour towards Palestinians.

Nor does the adoption of this definition help the fight against genuine anti-semitism. It has been embraced by the governments of Austria, Poland and Hungary – all of them hard racist right and, in the case of Hungary, headed by the most anti-semitic prime minister in Europe, Viktor Orban. He is also a firm ally and friend of Binyamin Netanyahu and professes wholehearted support for Israel.

Here, the false and widely disputed notion in the IHRA definition that Israel embodies some kind of “collective Jew” is revealed in fact to be permissive of anti-semitism. Orban says he cannot possibly be anti-semitic because he loves Israel, the “Jewish state”. But his recent election campaign and his authoritarian pronouncements are permeated with classical and vile  racism against Jewish people. He singles out individuals such as the financier George Soros as representative of “the Jew” conspiring to bring down the Hungarian and European nations. Three weeks before election day in April this year, he said in a speech:

“We are fighting an enemy that is different from us. Not open, but hiding; not straightforward but crafty; not honest but base; not national but international; does not believe in working but speculates with money; does not have its own homeland but feels it owns the whole world,”

Orban’s government has signed up to the IHRA definition that Corbyn’s Labour is held to be shameful in not adopting in full because of its “examples” that conflate opposition to Israel with anti-semitism.

There’s a further problem. The definition is itself inadequate in identifying real anti-semitism. It starts: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” That is an extraordinarily vague and ill-formed definition. Anti-semitism “is a certain perception of Jews” (as opposed to what, a nebulous conception of Jews) that “may be expressed as hatred toward Jews” – may? So it may not. It may not be hatred toward Jews, or it may not be expressed? What is it then?

Tomlinson says that, at the very least, that would have to be reformulated as: “Antisemitism is a particular attitude towards Jews, which is expressed as hatred toward Jews”. But he continues:

“Even in these amended terms the definition is unsatisfactory. The apparent confining of antisemitism to an attitude which is ‘expressed’ as a hatred of Jews seems too narrow and not to capture conduct which, though not expressed as hatred of Jews is clearly a manifestation of antisemitism. It does not, for example, include discriminatory social and institutional practices.”

For any anti-racist, a failure to understand how a type of racism takes institutional and socially discriminatory forms is a major omission and a retreat from decades of gains by the anti-racist movements in Britain.

So it is not only the rights of the Palestinians, free speech and the socialist left that would be the victims of the capitulation to this dodgy definition that some labour movement voices are demanding. It would also be the fight against genuine anti-semitism and our understanding of racism as a whole as something structured into society and not just individual prejudices.

It’s past time to stop the retreat on this. A huge amount is at stake – on every progressive front. This meeting in London in ten days time is a good, broad effort building on lots that has gone before, to rally forces to do just that.

The risk is not that the right is advancing like a juggernaut. It’s that the left retreats and surrenders in complete disarray. That’s what can open the door to the right – both the establishment and far right. That cannot be allowed to happen. A big lie is being told – and all on the left should stand up to it.

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Tory crisis: time to be as radical as reality itself

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Two years to the day since Theresa May took office and now the storms facing her government are off the Beaufort scale.

They barrel wider and more violently than the cabinet resignations and the efforts by the Brexit wing of the Tory party to undo her Chequers deal of only last Friday.

Those are but a playing out of the political schism that erupted just over two years ago with the referendum.

This paper [the Morning Star] was among those who argued at the time that a Leave vote would bring a period of systemic crisis for the British establishment and the Tory party.

That is what has happened. That smarmy Blairite with a blue rosette, David Cameron, bequeathed to May a government of the party of big business tasked with carrying through a popular, national decision that big business opposes.

That flat contradiction is not going away. No matter the immediate outcome of the Tory Brexiters’ rebellion, which itself suggests that the Tory party is in such a bad state that it has lost even its legendary capacity efficiently to dispatch a failing leader.

May’s own, let’s say politely, “limitations” aggravate the wound. Some of us said two years ago that “she simply isn’t any good”. Everything she touches turns from stable to horse bolted. Look at the long delayed Trump visit.

An ICM poll this week found that just 16 per cent of people in Britain agreed with the statement “politicians like Trump speak for me”. Some 62 per cent disagreed.

That hints at the social opinions that constitute the sandbank on which the May government is running aground. They are analysed this week in the annual report of the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey.

Social attitudes do not in and of themselves alter the course of political events. That requires political agents – parties, movements and historic clashes.

But the BSA’s report provides solid grounds for the left and labour movement to be both optimistic and insurgent in confronting this dying government.

Perhaps the most surprising field where that is borne out is in the fight against the poison of racism and xenophobia.

Tomorrow will see a considerable mobilisation by the labour and progressive movements against the little Trumps (and in some cases wannabe Hitlers) gathering in London under the banner of freeing the criminal “Tommy Robinson”.

The brawling street stomping over the last few months of the Democratic Football Lads Alliance has been alarming. It is not, however, some outgrowth of a shift to violent racist and Islamophobic attitudes in Britain.

Nor is it the expression of popular football culture.

While these thugs, with fascists at their core and masquerading as the voice of football fans, ignore the multiracial composition of the England team, the rest of us should not disregard important findings about attitudes to immigration into Britain. They show that the racist rabble do not speak for a growing segment of society, still less a majority.

The BSA found that only 17 per cent of people think immigrants are bad for the British economy to 47 per cent who feel they are a benefit. Just 23 per cent think migrants undermine “British culture” while 44 per cent think they enrich it.

These are the most positive figures since the survey first started asking this question in 2011. Of course, concealed with them can be a sharp polarisation in which there is a hardening of racist and xenophobic views among a smaller minority.

And there is the major issue of attitudes to Muslims – Islamophobia has been the leading edge of racism since the onset of the “War on Terror”.

But even here, while dangerously high, Islamophobic attitudes in Britain are lower than in every other major European country. And the expression of hardened racist ideas in the political system, UKIP, remains suppressed. The decline set in sharply after Nigel Farage failed to win a seat at the 2015 general election.

That all can change – certainly if this nascent far right offensive is not nipped in the bud by the pincer operation of the labour movement, immigrant communities and committed anti-racists.

This far right mechanism is moving from online cesspits to on-street intimidation, boosted organisationally and financially by fascistic forces on both sides of the Atlantic. Trump enables them.

That machine of violent racism must be broken, and with it the racist policies it feeds off.

But there is every reason to be confident that doing so will be less holding a thin red line against massive reaction and more opening the floodgates for popular, radical change to the left.

Amber Rudd is unique among EU interior ministers in having to resign for being too hostile to immigrants. Her successor as home secretary, Sajid Javid, is trying to distance himself from the “hostile environment” policies introduced by Theresa May.

Window dressing it may be. But in almost every other major state in Europe interior ministers are galloping to the racist right in policy and rhetoric. Horst Seehofer in Germany this week smirked as he told reporters that 69 desperate asylum seekers had been deported to Afghanistan on his 69th birthday. One of them committed suicide on arrival.

Meanwhile the British government drives through the disaster of Universal Credit. But the BSA finds that sympathy with those on benefits, and support for both greater welfare provision and for a living wage are higher than at any time for a decade.

There is what can best be described as a national mood that austerity has gone too far and that there needs to be a new settlement that restores and funds public services. It is most pronounced over the NHS. Education is not far behind.

If the Tories are the party of individual avarice – there is no such thing as society – then the survey finds the highest levels of trust in fellow citizens (but not in political institutions) since 1998.

In England, the proportion identifying with a narrow and chauvinist Englishness is also at its lowest level for 20 years: 13 per cent.

There are many other findings in the survey. The picture they paint is not uniform. And it has some typical weaknesses. The biggest is that its categorisation of class is an antiquated marketing scheme of occupational status.

So the nurse on a ward at 5am is considered part of a “managerial and professional” stratum, while the cleaner next to them is “working class”.

That feeds into a second weakness of trying to find statistical correlations of “values” or “Leave v Remain” with political identifications or views that evidently are more complex.

That said, if we are as a labour movement to base ourselves on evidence-led politics, this provides some compelling evidence.

So while placing a heavy emphasis on age and educational differences in looking at the last election, it reinforces the message some of us have been putting that a “generational” or “culture” war approach would be disastrous for the left and for Labour’s chances of winning the next election.

There was a 5 percentage point increase in the number of 18-24 year olds voting in 2017 compared with the election in 2015 (and they overwhelmingly voted Labour).

But there was also a 4 point increase in turnout among 45-54 year olds (pretty much 50:50 Labour and Tory). Among over 65s it was a 3 point increase.

Labour’s extraordinary advance last year was not down to a “youth quake” and to fixate on one age range of the mass of working class people would be a big mistake.

As for the siren voices of the continuity-Blairite-Remain operation on Labour’s benches: the Tories increased support by 14 points among Leave voters (mainly from UKIP) but lost support by 7 points among Remainers last year. Labour, however, increased support among Remainers by 16 points, but also among Leavers by 7 points (also from UKIP).

It did so with a manifesto that spoke directly to the big social issues highlighted in this survey and appealing to both the blue and white collar working class and to the lower middle class.

There is a way to go in that and in redressing the bleeding of support for Labour in working class areas under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

But there is the most extraordinary conjuncture in Britain right now. The Tory government is wracked by crises. The far right, so apparent elsewhere, is dependent more on US money and European loudmouths than it is an expression of any trend in public mood.

The left has an enormous opening. Jeremy Corbyn put it crisply at the Unite the Union conference: to be a force “of the working class – in all its diversity”.

The only issue now, as someone once said, is to be as radical as reality itself.

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Mahmoud Abbas: reactionary rhetoric and political diversion

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The real relationship between Netanyahu, Abbas and the imperialist power of the US and its allies

The comment by Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, that the Holocaust was a result of the economic function of Jewish people in Europe and not of anti-semitism is wrong, shows a failure to grasp the nature of anti-Jewish racism in Europe, and plays with an old anti-semitic lie.

No friend of Palestine should hesitate in saying so.

But it speaks about him rather than the Palestinian people and their struggle. It reflects on them only by dint of Abbas’s undemocratically held position in the compromised and corrupted Palestinian Authority, enmeshed with Israel’s repression of the West Bank.

Nor should this surprise any long-standing supporter of the Palestinians. Abbas has said similar things before trivialising European anti-semitism or worse.I don’t have my copy to hand, but Gilbert Achcar’s book – The Arabs and the Holocaust – about the reception of the fact and history of the Holocaust in the Arab region talks about Abbas.

Achcar makes the point that Abbas is one of those leaders Israel has embraced against more radical figures down the decades – up to now, in his case.

Another was Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian leader who broke the official Arab front against Israel and signed the Camp David accords. It brought the largest Arab country into a long relationship with the US and Israel, stabilising the Israeli state and one government after another at the expense of the Palestinian cause. Mubarak was the same.

Sadat was hailed in Israel. So was Abbas when he repeatedly repressed more radical forces over the last decade and more and isolated militant voices in the PLO or the Islamist Hamas.

Achcar documents how Sadat, Abbas, and Saudi and Jordanian leaders in de facto alliance with Israel all came out with crude anti-semitic ideas. But the Israeli state favoured them and rarely said a word. That is because they delivered the manifold weakening of the Palestinian and Arab movements.

Their crude reactionary stereotyping also helped an Israeli propaganda operation at home pointing to the “barbarism of our neighbours”. It was better to have them so as to present a story of communalism in the region.

And those leaders used reactionary rhetoric about “Jews” to try to cover domestically their capitulation to imperialism and abandonment of the Palestinians.

Previous Arab state leaders had done similarly as they gave up the fight for Palestine but sought to play as a voice of Arab discontent, replacing a real struggle against imperialism with reactionary displacement-rhetoric about Jews and others.

Marxists in and out of the Middle East at the time pointed out that that was but one of the ways that the Israeli state allied to imperialism helped to corrupt and derail radical movements in the region in a duet with reactionary Arab leaderships.

That was what happened when quite sectarian pro-British Iraqi nationalists came to power in the late 1940s. Not at all coincidentally – they covered their near immediate compromise with the imperialist powers with anti-semitic rhetoric against Iraq’s large Jewish minority (a third of the population of Baghdad has been Jewish) and repression of the mass Communist Party. Both suited the Israeli leadership as it put great efforts into getting Iraqi Jews to emigrate to Israel, including by stoking communal tensions.

Israeli propaganda fire has been directed instead at radical forces of all kinds who refused capitulation or communalism. The same radical forces were opposed or repressed by the likes of Sadat or Abbas. They are today by General Sisi in Egypt and Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia and others.

The more radial forces constituted largely left Arab Nationalists or socialist/communist strands – or their Iranian or Turkish counterparts – whose analysis was not based on crude communalist ideas, but upon universalist principles opposed to imperialism and colonial-settler states. They were often, like George Habash of the PFLP, part of the rejectionist front that refused the Oslo process, Camp David and other capitulations to US and Israeli power.

They include great left Palestinian intellectuals such as the late Edward Said and Hanan Ashrawi, and leaders such as Marwan Barghouti, a radical alternative to the likes of Abbas, who is held in an Israeli prison.

A particular target is the civil society movement of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, with major advances for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. It comes from activists in Palestine and in exile whose thinking is suffused with universalist and internationalist ideas of the global movements – and with the historic insights of the Marxist left.

Achcar’s is one of several works which trace back that kind of progressive, anti-communalist thinking in Palestinian and Arab modern history. There are parallel histories of Iran, which continues to have a vibrant Jewish minority.

So while opposing the land grab by the colonising Zionist movement, the most representative forces in the region in the interwar years were not indifferent to – still less supportive of – the gathering threat to Jewish people in Europe posed by fascism.

The Egyptian Wafd, for example, from a rather moderate position of seeking negotiated national independence from British rule, also expressed sympathy for those fleeing European anti-semitism, even as they were opposed to them setting up an exclusivist society in Palestine that was pushing Palestinians out under the British Mandate. We should remember that as the walls closed in on the Jewish populations of Europe in the late-1930s the governments of North America, Western Europe and Australia refused to let them in.

Palestinian figures did the same as the Egyptian and other Arab anti-colonial circles. The most influential Palestinians – often intellectuals and left aligned – openly acknowledged in the 1940s that a great disaster had been inflicted on the Jews of Europe.

It was a catastrophe completely unlike anything that had happened in the Arab region – ever. There had occasionally been localised communal clashes of various kinds over the previous millennium. But nothing, nothing like genocide – nothing as barbaric as the Holocaust, committed in Europe, against Europeans, by Europeans.

There was some pride among the progressive intelligentsia and small left in the Arab region that their societies, despite all the depredations and schisms, had not produced anything like that.

In the face of the obvious lure of realpolitik, the majority of those seeking national independence from the British and French empires in the Second World War did not embrace some unholy alliance with the rival Third Reich, despite great overtures from the Nazis in Berlin.

An exception was the obscurantist Mufti of Jerusalem. Ideologues for Israel constantly play up his role as in some way representative. It was not.

That didn’t stop Binyamin Netanyahu two years ago making the ludicrous claim that it was the Mufti of Jerusalem who persuaded Hitler upon the course of the Holocaust at the end of November 1941. It was an incredible intervention by Netanyahu that lifted responsibility for the Holocaust from the Nazis to place it on the Palestinians.

Such was the outcry that he later had to row back. But let’s not take any lessons from the prime minister of Israel – friend of the anti-semite Viktor Orban in Hungary – on proper remembrance of the Holocaust and its causes.

Again we see that the extreme right government in Israel and its supporters prefer minor obscurantist and communalist Arab figures to dealing with mass expressions of Palestinian and Arab history and society.

And the progressive expressions of those societies are continuing to be felt. Nearly two in three of the 350 million people in the Arab region are under the age of 30. Turkey and Iran – home to another 150 million between them – are also extremely young societies.

Despite all manner of defeats and setbacks over the decades there are vestiges of the older better traditions of a politics of struggle opposed to communalist thinking.

People are having also to continue to come to terms with two failures. That of the Arab nationalists who came to power, sometimes with left rhetoric, but only to compromise and capitulate rather than commit to the broader social struggle as the bedrock of opposing imperialism.

Abbas would fit that, though he never engaged in left rhetoric, rising only after the fundamental compromise and resulting corruption had taken place.

The other failure is of the Islamist alternative. It could come to the presidency in Cairo out of the Egyptian revolution, but could not hold it against the counter-revolution in 2013.

Of course these strands have not gone away. Nor can anyone be indifferent to the repression faced by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt – alongside the socialist left – with president Morsi in prison facing a death sentence. Everyone should oppose that, as well as what is in reality a daily war against Hamas and the people of Gaza.

But it means that particularly among young people there is a great thirst for ideas and initiatives that can break out of the cycle of defeat and the counter-revolutionary grip of reaction.

It is amplified as it resonates with young, and not so young, Arabs and Middle Easterners abroad, and with the growing movement of solidarity with Palestine.
That’s the big thing that not just the government of Israel but the reactionary Arab kings and presidents want to stop. They saw in the Egyptian revolution of 2011 what it can lead to.

And so they would like to identify all of us with Abbas, who has in time-honoured fashion sought to make up for his utter failure to defend the Palestinian society by instead uttering some ignorant and reactionary guff. (Incidentally, similarly backward rubbish is spoken about “the Persians.)

Just how pathetic his position is is set to be shown when all his compromises and surrender agreements are greeted with the move of the US embassy to Tel Aviv in two weeks’ time, symbolising the long since reality of the death of the Oslo process.

There will be enormous protests. Abbas may duck and dive, but he is as fearful of them as the Israeli state is, with whom he has worked closely for over a decade.

In those protests will be a strand of emancipatory thinking engaged with the ideas of the radical left.

And where are those ideas to be found in the West? Well, in large concentration in the pro-Palestine and anti-war movements where an increasing number of Jewish and Muslim activists meet with many others in activities whose direction is of the internationalist left.

That is going to be our big answer to Abbas’s ignorant and calculated rubbish – through the central front of standing with the actual Palestinian struggle, against the spread of war in the Middle East and against the reactionary role of the big imperialist powers, and of their watchdog – Israel.

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The anti-racist radical left must give the ideological battle

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Christine Buchholtz – MP of Die Linke in Germany, part of the radical left at the centre of both the fight against the far right and racism and directly confronting Angela Merkel’s militarism

It’s sad to see the NGO-generated monitoring group, AfD Watch, in Berlin peddling the centrist attack on the radical left, claiming it is convergent with the far right.

It says there is a major problem of what it terms the “pro-Moscow left” uniting with the fascistic right over issues such as Syria.

The evidence it has produced for this is largely images of a few individuals on demonstrations against the Syria bombing with decidedly reactionary placards.

But to go from that to say that there is a major corruption of the radical left and that it is in bed with the fascist right is a ludicrous construction.

I think most of us have seen on any significant demonstration the odd – sometimes very odd – individual with some placard or slogan that is both wholly unrepresentative of the mobilisation and quite unhinged or reactionary in its imagery or ideas.

Probably still in Britain, for example, people come across on many demonstrations outside Downing Street that quixotic character dressed as a leprechaun, doing a bad Irish jig and sporting a placard with a quote from, if I recall correctly, the Book of Deuteronomy.

Or there’s that bloke with the placard – made of cut-out lettering in the manner of a kidnap demand – about the evils of fiat money. Or that woman who pops up everywhere with her Illuminati leaflet and telling us it is all the fault of the Bilderberg Group.

Most people would accept that it is unfair and absurd to highlight those odd people as somehow characteristic of the mobilisations they serially pop up at. But that is often what media – both conservative and liberal – who are hostile to those mobilisations do.

Sometimes they have done so over more socially and politically significant presences. At the start of the anti-war movement in 2001 there were some people from the fringes of the Muslim communities turning up with religiously sectarian and reactionary slogans and imagery.

For the pro-war social democratic left it was something to seize on. The short-lived Euston Manifesto intervention, for example, claimed that the anti-war left in Britain was in bed with “Islamic fundamentalists”, by which they meant not only the small groups of nihilist sectarians but the mass Muslim organisations and community structures who, along with the left, were bitterly opposed by the sectarian reactionaries.

It was because the left led a broad but politically focused anti-war movement that those reactionary sectarians became increasingly marginalised. That was to the extent that in Tower Hamlets, for example, they took to physical attacks on the united campaigning and political activity by the radical left alongside progressive Muslim activists, who grew massively in number.

The other line of smear against the anti-war movement was the false syllogism that: “You oppose the war; the fascist BNP also opposes the war; therefore you are in league with the fascists.”

But it was the left who led the anti-war movement, with a militantly anti-racist edge, not the fascists. The BNP opportunistically adapted to the popular mood, but was unable to participate in the movement.

And it is not true in Germany that anti-war sentiment is being corralled by the far right or that the radical left is in some unholy alliance with the fascists. Sure, there are demoralised fringes of the left with bad politics hailing from the 1970s (and those have contributed to their demoralisation) who look to rotten alliances of convenience.

But that is not a major thing socially. It is actually less significant socially than those demoralised Muslim strands who looked to an alliance with Nato over Libya or Syria in the face of authoritarianism and repression in those countries.

It is not characteristic of the leading forces of Die Linke, whatever ideological and political debates are happening in that party and on the German left.

The same Die Linke MPs who are central to opposing German militarism are also often central to the fight against deportations, against German state racism and directly against the AfD.

When the fascistic Pegida tried opportunistically to be a part of the anti-war mobilisation in Chemnitz, an old friend and comrade Einde O’Callaghan describes how he and the other organisers prevented that. That’s because they had taken the initiative and built good, principled alliances – not narrowly demanding ideological convergence in advance, but cleverly forging a front that rebuffed far right attempts to inveigle their way in.

On the anti-war demonstration in Berlin friends describe an overwhelmingly left wing and internationalist atmosphere and a focus on Germany’s militarism and participation in the Western military alliances, also pointing out its racist policies at home.

Of course, that means ideological argument against wrong and bad ideas in the movement from small demoralised fringes. But that is based upon taking the initiative in the first place. You can imagine what would happen if the radical left did not do that but instead left the field open to the far right or reactionary forces.

You would have a situation in which the radical right dominated in selective anti-war activities – something which a recent column in the Guardian falsely claimed to be an accomplished fact in Europe and North America. But the ideological argument is not only – or even mainly – against odd bits on the fringes of the left or of immigrant communities.

It is overwhelmingly in dealing with the pressures exerted by the pro-capitalist liberal centre. That’s because socially those pressures are far, far greater. The odd remnant of 1970s Maoism in Germany might get 10,000 votes nationally. The SPD, despite its precipitate decline, is still the major party expression of the German working class movement.

It is in government. It provides a foreign minister intent on a “more aggressive” policy towards Moscow. It has capitulated to anti-refugee policies from the right and far right. And it provides the liberal-interventionist cover for German militarism and out of area deployments, just as a Green Party foreign minister did for the SPD 20 years ago.

Moreover, those are largely the positions of the liberal intelligentsia which influences, often through the bureaucracies of the labour movement, masses of ordinary people.

The bigger ideological battle is against those pro-systemic forces who seek to contain rising radicalism and anger, not least through the “horseshoe” or “theory of the two extremes” in which radical left and radical right are routinely bracketed together as twin enemies of progress.

One big area of intervention for them is the politics of anti-racism. For them anti-racism equals being an enlightened middle class liberal. It does not mean the revolutionary insurgency of the Black Panther Party against the US state in the 1960s.

Indeed, in Britain, France and Germany similar systemic, liberal forces seek to accuse the radical left of racism because we challenge the state at home, its imperialism abroad, neoliberal globalisation, Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians, and the false idea that opposing racism means supporting the institutions of liberal capitalism and imperialism.

We want and need the broadest possible fighting unity on the left, of the labour movement and of oppressed communities.

But no one should be under any illusion that in the course of that the pro-systemic forces of the centre will fight back.

They will seek to channel anti-racist sentiment not in an anti-systemic, anti-capitalist direction, but towards support for the liberal state structures and their political expressions, which continue to be the dominant structures and ideology – even in Trump’s America, let alone Britain, France and Germany. So the left has to give that ideological battle in return, based upon building mass movements in which it takes the initiative.

It is not the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist left that is in league with the fascists.

It is the centre that is opening the door to them.

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Unite the left and anti-racist movements against cynical right-wing disruption

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Not just in Britain, but also in France, austerity governments are attempting to confuse and disrupt general opposition and anti-racist sentiment.

This is an important article firmly rejecting the decision by the president of the French equivalent of the Board of Deputies in Britain, the CRIF, to ban Jean-Luc Melenchon and La France Insoumise from last night’s demonstration in memory of Mireille Knoll, an elderly Jewish Holocaust survivor murdered in an anti-semitic attack last Friday.

In so doing, he bracketed together the radical left and the fascists of the Front National.

CRIF president Francis Khalifat claimed: “Anti-Semites are over-represented in the far left and the far right, making those parties ones that you don’t want to be associated with.”

It is an outrageous lie about Melenchon and the radical left. As this piece makes clear it is to equate a man with an impeccable record of opposition to anti-semitism and an anti-racist with a party founded by a vicious racist who trivialises the Holocaust, referring to it as “a minor detail of history”.

Khalifat went further and spelled out that his objection is that Melenchon and the left are critical of Israel. So unquestioning support for the state of Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians is to be the requirement for protesting against racism and an anti-semitic murder in France.

It’s difficult to imagine a more effective way to divide anti-racist feeling in France at the murder. Melenchon turned up. He was booed – but not by some spontaneous section of the crowd. It was by supporters of the ultra right and extremist “Jewish Defence League”, which has under the common banner of Islamophobia, anti-leftism and support for the Netanyahu government in Israel, established contacts and cooperation with the Front National.

After harassing Melenchon and La France Insoumise supporters, this group escorted Marine Le Pen onto the march.

She was rightly jeered by ordinary participants. But she got airtime for her argument that the “real problem” is “Muslim anti-semitism”. She has space for that lie because that is a false argument that has been put by some pro-system, pro-centre-right Jewish community leaders and by politicians of both the centre right and centre left who, unlike Melenchon, fail to name Le Pen and her party as fascist. They also suggest that racial antagonism in France is generated by poor immigrants.

Meanwhile, the president of France, Emmanuel Macron, who is upping the rate of deportations and strengthening Fortress Europe, was welcomed to the demonstration.

What we are seeing is a close parallel to the Tory and right wing efforts in Britain to maul anti-racism, divide the movement, try to make themselves the arbiters of opposing anti-semitism and racism, and to smear the radical left.

It shows that while there is a particular focus on Jeremy Corbyn, it is part of a wider trend. There is no mural from five years ago at issue in the smears on Melenchon – only that he is a radical left politician who rejects both racism and France’s Middle East policy.

In fact, he has gone out of his way – unlike Corbyn – to present his anti-racism in conventional terms, which in France mean support for a “colour-blind” Republic. All to no avail – he’s still smeared.

That’s because there is a political agenda here from the centre right and its allies to break the left and militant anti-racism.

An instrument in that is the false claim that to oppose anti-Jewish racism you must support the state of Israel. This is deeply embedded in German politics also, where it is used as a stick to beat the Turkish and Kurdish and Arab immigrant minorities.

In so doing, it actually boosts the real fascists of the AfD and their lie that the problem of racism in Germany is about the attitudes of recently arrived Arab refugees from Syria.

The AfD gets some space to do that as it claims to be a strong supporter of Israel, so ludicrously that can give it a claim to membership of the official family of “anti-racists”. That they do not get far in that is thanks to the rising and left-led anti-racist and anti-fascist movement in Germany.

A genuine anti-racist movement is being built in Germany against the AfD and against the Merkel government with its deportation policy and hard right interior minister, Horst Seehofer, who says: “Islam has no place in Germany.” There has been an alarming increase in the firebombing of mosques in Germany over the last few months.

The AfD is not the same as the Merkel government. But the specific response to it is rightly also angled against the government and its mainstream racism that feeds the AfD.

In France, a gang of masked suspected fascists attacked the student occupation in Montpellier last Thursday night in apparent collaboration with the university authorities. It triggered widespread protests against the real threat of fascism and racism.

The radical left, including La France Insoumise, are at the centre of the protests.

The student occupations are part of a rising wave of protest and strikes against the government on a number of fronts – critically by the well organised rail workers who have called weekly two-day strikes over the coming months.

The protest wave is uniting working people of all backgrounds and ethnicities. It is a major potential force against racism and to break the influence of the Front National.

But Macron is seeking to smash the movement. And this abuse of the memory of a victim of a racist murder is about trying to undermine the left and the potential for a militant anti-racism that truly unites people.

This is a logic that goes beyond one country. The disgraceful smears against Corbyn in Britain are not unique.

This is built in to desperate – and reckless – attempts by mainstream governments in Europe to head off both social movements of opposition and the formation of militant, united anti-racist struggles.

Everywhere the left’s answer must be to deepen the movements of opposition, the strikes and protests; to construct the politically independent and militant anti-racism that targets the governments as well as the far right; and to give the political battle against this attempt to make the arbiter of anti-racism support for the racist exclusion of Palestinians from their own homes.

The forces of the centre are prepared to disfigure and destroy anti-racist sentiment in a false name of anti-racism.

They must be resisted. It is these cynical attempts at divide and rule – even through falsely claiming to champion one oppressed group at the expense of another – that right now are a serious threat to anti-racist and working class unity.

And the immediate target is to place further repressive burdens on the Muslim communities.

The beneficiaries – as history attests – if that is not stopped will be the actual fascists in Europe: Islamophobic, racist, and anti-semitic, and a threat to all working people.

In uniting against this, it means a fighting anti-racist unity led by the left, against the right – and prepared to take head on the divide and rule of Theresa May, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel.

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