Monthly Archives: June 2009

Steve Cohen – a celebration of his life and political achievements

thatsfunny Sunday 5th July, 11am-1pm in the Lord Mayor’s Parlour at Manchester Town Hall followed at 2pm by Immigration Law Practitioners Association meeting. Speakers covering aspects of Steve’s political life.

Lunch available and all welcome to both meetings.
Steve died on March 8th 2009. The meeting will celebrate Steve’s four decade long contribution to radical politics including anti-fascism, fighting antisemitism and the struggle against immigration controls

Hal Draper: How To Defend Israel (1948)

Hal Draper and his political party, the Workers’ Party, rejected the idea of partition and believed the ultimate decision to set up a new nation state of Israel in 1948 was a regrettable one. But, recognising that most socialists had not pursued an argument against nationalism in general and should not do so with Jews in 1948, and cognisant of the nature of the enemies of Israel at that time, he authored How To Defend Israel: a Political Program for Israeli Socialists.

This was a time, note, when religion was eclipsed as an influence in Middle East conflicts by a raft of other warring ideologies, and so does not receive the emphasis he would probably give it if he were writing today. The idea of Britain being part of the Big Three is also quaint. And the notion of ‘imperialism’ is, as ever, left unpacked (in my previous post Moishe Postone examines how anti-capitalism became internationalised as anti-imperialism). It was also a time when Palestinians who had suddenly found themselves as Israel’s Arab citizens were living under military rule; since that time a great deal of progress has been made (notwithstanding the present Israeli government – as Mohammad Darawshe remarks “There have been worse”). However, Hal Draper’s thinking about Israel is worth revisiting because of his distinction between elites (which he terms ‘Zionist leadership’ and ‘Arab lords’ or ‘effendis’) and the interests of two peoples, and his acknowledgement of their right to self determination.

“… socialist thinking on this subject must start by understanding the distinction between (a) the Jews’ right to self-determination, and (b) the correctness or advisability of exercising this right to the point of separation under given conditions. We need only refer to the fact that, before and after the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks’ program called for defense of Finland’s right to self-determination: before the revolution, Marxists in Finland advocated separation; after the revolution, the Communists in Finland advocated unity with Russia; but both before and after, there was no question in their minds but that the Finns had the right to separate if they so willed. Never under Lenin did the Soviets attempt to deprive them of that right by force of arms.

But in the present case we do not even have the complication of a workers’ state being involved. Far from it! The attack upon the Jews’ right to self-determination comes from a deeply reactionary social class – the Arab lords – whose reactionary aims in this case are not alleviated by the fact that they themselves suffer from the exploitation of British imperialism (at the same time that they cling to that imperialism in order to defend their privileges against their own people).

In this conflict, as socialists – that is, as the only thoroughgoing and consistent democrats, we not only support the Palestine Jews’ right to self-determination but draw the necessary conclusions from that position: for full recognition of the Jewish state by our own government; for lifting the embargo on arms to Israel; for defense of the Jewish state against the Arab invasion in the present circumstances.

But for us this is not the end of the question but only the beginning.

The question which we have asked, following Lenin’s method, was: What politics does this war flow from? War – so goes the platitude – is the continuation of politics by other, forceful, means. In the case of every concrete war, we try to analyze concretely the politics of which that war is the continuation. The Spanish loyalist government was an imperialist government; it exploited Morocco and oppressed the peasants (and shot them down when they revolted!). But when the Franco fascists sought to overthrow even this miserable government, we called for its defense – in our own way, by revolutionary means, and without giving the slightest political support to the bourgeois People’s Front leaders – because our analysis of the concreteness of events showed that the anti-Franco war did not flow from the loyalist government’s imperialist character but from the fascists’ attack upon its democratic base.

This was ABC once.”

Read on.

(I also got a lot out of Hal Draper’s his ABC of National Liberation Movements. I have yet to read his much-cited Two Souls of Socialism. See also Sean Matgamna, whose organisation Workers’ Liberty frequently draws on Draper’s thinking, and who cautions “Draper, I think, did contribute more than a little to the Zionophobe conquest of so much of the left”.)

Via Contested Terrain.

Moishe Postone on history, the Holocaust and the anti-capitalist Left

Anti-capitalist discourse has become personal. Moishe Postone, Professor in the University of Chicago’s History Department, is an intellectual historian who explains this well. Unless I’m mistaken, he also edited His work is also published in what for me is one of the most important texts to come out of the small section of the radical left which fights antisemitism – the reader Why Your Revolution Is No Liberation (all links point here, but it’s gone – I’ll see if I have a copy on file to upload).

His presentation at SOAS on June 15th outlined with great clarity the origins of the weaknesses of thought on the radical left which are preventing it from reckoning with antisemitism. He explains difficulties both universalist and particularist ways of looking at the world have had accommodating Jews since the rise of Fascism in the ’30s. This is not an optimistic presentation, but it does set out and clarify our problem: radical anti-capitalist critique has taken up antisemitic ways of thinking.

My jots:

~~~~

Buchenwald and Hiroshima was dealt with by Left; but the left has not managed to deal with Auschwitz.

The Age of Catastrophe in the 30s and 40s gave way to High Fordism’s state centred synthesis and its welfare states; in turn this yielded to Post-Fordism with its social differentiation and unemployment, downturns in some parts, undermined welfare state.

USSR as development of capitalist social formation, no matter how antithetical. It was a response to capitalism, not an independent movement.

Antisemitism understood widely as variant of racism. But modern antisemitism treats Jews not as a racially inferior group to be kept in place but as dangerous, destructive and powerful in an intangible, global, abstract way. Jews as vast modern conspiracy.

Antisemitism is populist, counterhegemonic, claims explanatory power. Modern a/s purports to explain the modern capitalist world. Misrecognises the global domination of capital. Freeing the world involves freeing it from the Jews. Emancipatory. Blurs differences between reactionary and progressive/emancipatory. Bebel. Antisemitism today understands capitalism as a Jewish conspiracy.

Is the reactionary critique a first step to a progressive critique? No, not historically.

Left responses to the Holocaust.

As fetishised form of anticapitalism.

Nazis were recognised first as anti-modern, then fundamentally modern. A problematic reversal. Anti-capitalism was an effort to overcome a huge historical change which seems to be beyond people, impersonal. Reimagine the struggle against capitalism as a struggle of wills. But that world view faded for decades after the Holocaust. History faded as an issue for a while. Beginning in the mid 50s, rapid economic growth enveloped Stalinist East and Keynsian West and seemed to be an age of universal progress. History seemed tame. Nazism seemed like an aberration, an incongruity – anti-modern at a time when affirmations of modernity were hegemonic.

Shift to particularism saw Nazism as extreme eg of rationalised bureaucratised modernity. But still counter-hegemonic.

The Holocaust was marginalised between ’45 and ’60s, after which it became centralised in discourse. But the centrality of antisemitism to Nazism was completely bracketed. Fascism was understood as a tool of capitalism used against working classes; antisemitism was seen as a variation. USSR monuments to the Holocaust didn’t mention the Jews, or else they listed them as one of many nationalities victimised by Nazis. Ruling elites were prepared to curry favour with groups who remained antisemitic. Neither Churchill nor De Gaulle avoided this. So Jewish children sent to Auschwitz were officially described as ‘political deportees’ – the different reasons for being sent to Auschwitz were conflated. This constituted a submergence of specificity of the Holocaust. It was a form of universalist colour blindness which viewed any mention of Jews-as-Jews as unacceptably particularistic. After ’45 each country formerly occupied by Nazis presented itself as a briefly-occupied nation of resisters; this nationalist self-regard suited the emerging Fordist-Keynsian capitalist configuration.

In the USSR there were show trials; the Jewish Doctors’ Plot; in the US, McCarthyism. Each configuration viewed its foe as abstract and intangible. In each, Jewish identity was not treated as contingent, but central. Soviet show trials described Jews as ‘rootless cosmopolitans’ and ‘Zionists’. The Doctors’ Plot led to preparations in ’53 to round up Soviet Jews, abandoned on Stalin’s death that year. The turn against ‘cosmopolitanism’ was also seen in McCarthyism, a move against “international communism”. After 53, Cold War ‘regularised’, with blocs presenting fetishised values of alternatively liberty or equality, actualised according to universalised principles.

New movements – for the liberation and emancipation of women and other minorities – criticised abstract universalism and there was a shift towards a politics of recognition and of particularistic specificity. But anti-imperialism has reproduced old dichotomies by taking one particularist side against another.

A new conceptualisation of the world became diverted into an attack on the concrete – a turn from terra incognita and towards the conceptually familiar. Concrete forms of anti-imperialism occlude the nature of abstract domination of capitalism.

Much of the New Left became involved in an anti-colonialism which was a failing as well as an expression of solidarity. Anti-colonialism was also a displaced way of expressing a radical critique of Western society, translated into other terms which fail to mount opposition to capitalism.

Anti-Iraq war demonstrations were not, after all, supporting a progressive force in Iraq, but the Baathist regime. Resistance to the US in and of itself is now viewed as counter-hegemonic. This is a reactionary, rather than progressive, form of anti-imperialism.

The conflation of Israel and US re-articulates old discourse of European political right about Britain and the Jews. The constitution of anti-hegemonic politics and movements was afflicted by this way of thinking in the 20th century, with the eventuality of the Holocaust.

Left cannot formulate an adequate radical critique of capitalism today. This absence of radical critique breeds fetishised forms of anti-capitalism which are essentially antisemitic.

Questions

Qu

Why do you want to avoid conflating mass extermination with mass murder?

Nazis wanted to kill many Poles and Russians and enslave the rest. But there was a will to kill all Jews, old and young. The killing of children demonstrated the hugeness of the threat that the Nazis assumed the Jews to be. Mass murder does not imply the destruction of evil; extermination does.

Book 2003 Jonathan Brent. ‘The plot against the Jewish doctors’

Qu

Equation of Israel with Nazism is a product of Soviet propaganda post-67 when Zionism became once again an international conspiracy, particularly in Pan-Arab discourse.

The focus of attention on Israel could make more immediate problems recede. Anyway, until that time, Nazism wasn’t such a bad word. It was simply expedient to use it as a gold standard of evil at the time.

Qu
Under Tsarism?

Soviet messages from 60s include cartoons which cast Jews as complicit in Jewish crimes. Perdition – according to somebody who read a draft, Perdition lost incendiary lines in the editing process, about Jews, as culprits for the death of Jesus, nailing the Christ to the cross and similar or worse.

Qu

What resources has the left lacked to allow it to get into this state. Moral perspective lacking? Match-up between straightforward utilitarian consequentialists who are at the same time advancing antisemitism eg Ted Honderichs, and, on the other hand universalists. Critique of anti-capitalism which comes from a milieu without the moral resources to develop the politics of recognition into a truer critique.

Calling into question of a form of universalism which rejects difference – but incoherent because some diffs were liked and some not. A form of universalism which encompasses difference is required. In the US on the academic left there is a reification of difference which either negates or affirms eg Islam as a unitary other, a form of orientalism.

Qu
Why are we surprised by discoveries of antisemitism in one or other section of thought?

Left doesn’t understand a/s. Understands it as being anti-Left, anti-gay, anti-black. But a/s is a particular challenge for the left, at the time when the left is largely unmoored.

Qu
Why do we persist with umbrella term of antisemitism? Why not say anti-Jewishness?

Antisemitism, the term coined by antisemites, has never referred to semites – it has referred to a world conspiracy.

Qu
Herzl was the first to brag about the international Jew. He sold out on the Armenian revolution. What is the Jewish contribution to antisemitism? [this man blames the victims. The “Jewish contribution to antisemitism” is to be the target of it].

There was no answer; a polite deferral.

Qu
Anti-imperialism grew out of attempt to explain why Marxist predictions didn’t come to pass. The concept of imperialism exists for the marxist left to explain the failings of marxism.

As long as there is capitalism there is the necessity of understanding it. Communist revolutions were about taking ‘imperialised’ countries and have them develop national capital along statist lines. At the same time the Arab Middle East and Sub Saharan Africa have declined drastically, with people looking for responsibility – and hitting on the US and Israel as the culprits.

Qu
State capitalist antisemitism desecrating cemetery with bulldozers in (I think) Eastern Europe. Hamas was being socialist in Gaza even as Muslim nationalists, while the PLO were doing nothing. Maybe a left view of universalism which could address US’s allies Saudi while being pro-public…?

That space is occupied by Islamic fundamentalists. Not optimistic Not seeing possibilities. One of the best things that could happen would be an even shaky resolution between Israel and Palestine, removing one excuse for antisemitism.

~~~~

You can read an article of his, History and Helplessness: Mass Mobilization and Contemporary Forms of Anticapitalism, and encounter some of these thoughts as the author intended.

Update: Here’s a copy of Why Your Revolution Is No Liberation [PDF]


The dominant anti-globalisation grievance against capitalism goes something like this. Money- and market-orientated processes have reduced human beings to commodities, robbing them of any means of existence except the sale of their own labour-power in exchange for tokens of commodity-value: money. Value therefore comes to be overwhelmingly predetermined by the concrete terms of money. Money comes to dictate social relations with human and environmental degradation as an inevitable consequence. Money is therefore the essence of capitalism and capitalism’s overthrow will hinge on the rejection of money and money-grubbing and the adoption of more natural, authentic, humanising forms of capital – craft and agricultural. Here the discourse becomes personalised.

Jon Pike resigns from the boycotting union’s NEC

Jon Pike, one of the founders of Engage, elected to the University and College Union National Executive Committee on an anti-boycott ticket, has resigned his position. Read his open letter to the Secretary General, Sally Hunt.

“Both Congress in 2008 and 2009, and a senior committee of the union have rejected calls for a ballot of the membership.  An amendment from my branch, to this year’s conference, calling for a ballot of the membership on this proposal was ruled out as a ‘wrecking amendment.’  It seems there is something incendiary about asking the members directly to express their views.  The call for a ballot has been rejected in the knowledge that, and because, such a ballot would lead to the overwhelming defeat of the boycott proposals.”

When proposals for boycott of Israeli universities have been considered by branches of the union and its predecessors, they have been overwhelmingly rejected. Members at Reading, Open, Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, Bath, Warwick, UCL, Strathclyde, Lancaster, Kingston, LSE, KCL, Birmingham, Bristol, UEA, Sussex, Cardiff, LSHTM, The Institute of Education, QMWL, Aberystwyth, Swansea, Southampton, and others, have voted, at branch meetings, to reject such proposals. Previous similar proposals have been repudiated by individual branches, and overwhelmingly rejected by branch ballots of their membership.

The resolutions in question have been rushed through, in a way that has actively prevented the membership from scrutinising them.  Papers concerning the resolution have been distributed extremely late, with no explanation.  Legal advice, paid for by the members concerning the resolution has been withheld from elected representatives, branch presidents, and the membership.”

And the consequences are dire. Read on.

It’s a splendid letter but the fact that it has been written strikes a chill.

Sometimes there’s nothing you can do but walk away. Thanks for standing up to the Socialist Worker Party for so long, Jon. What a gruesome job.

Obama’s Cairo Speech

The Cairo Speech full text.

On  the Israel-Palestine conflict:

“The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.

America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known.  This bond is unbreakable.  It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.

Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust.  Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich.  Six million Jews were killed — more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today.  Denying that fact is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful.  Threatening Israel with destruction — or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews — is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people — Muslims and Christians — have suffered in pursuit of a homeland.  For more than 60 years they’ve endured the pain of dislocation.  Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead.  They endure the daily humiliations — large and small — that come with occupation.  So let there be no doubt:  The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable.  And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.  (Applause.)

For decades then, there has been a stalemate:  two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive.  It’s easy to point fingers — for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought about by Israel’s founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond.  But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth:  The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.  (Applause.)

That is in Israel’s interest, Palestine’s interest, America’s interest, and the world’s interest.  And that is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience and dedication that the task requires.  (Applause.)  The obligations — the obligations that the parties have agreed to under the road map are clear.  For peace to come, it is time for them — and all of us — to live up to our responsibilities.

Palestinians must abandon violence.  Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed.  For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation.  But it was not violence that won full and equal rights.  It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America’s founding.  This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia.  It’s a story with a simple truth:  that violence is a dead end.  It is a sign neither of courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus.  That’s not how moral authority is claimed; that’s how it is surrendered.

Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build.  The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have to recognize they have responsibilities.  To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, recognize Israel’s right to exist.

At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s.  The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.  (Applause.)  This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace.  It is time for these settlements to stop.  (Applause.)

And Israel must also live up to its obligation to ensure that Palestinians can live and work and develop their society.  Just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be a critical part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

And finally, the Arab states must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities.  The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems.  Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state, to recognize Israel’s legitimacy, and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.

America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and we will say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs.  (Applause.)  We cannot impose peace.  But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away.  Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state.  It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.

Too many tears have been shed.  Too much blood has been shed.  All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of the three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra — (applause) — as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, peace be upon them, joined in prayer.  (Applause.)”

Tweets about the Cairo Speech – simple responses and observations, many links out to more developed thoughts.

  • “Obama uses “Muslim Communities” rather than the “Muslim World”. Smart.”
  • The section on Woman was written by Obama himself”
  • O called Israeli occupation by name, schooled people on historical FACT of Holocaust http://tinyurl.com/p8pf3x
  • “Reactions to #CairoSpeech from Palestine: some impressed, some not. “Actions matter more than words””
  • Great to hear a President understand we are part of the world and not the center of it.”

Ibn ad Dunya welcomes the words and hopes for implementation.

Winston Pickett on Obama’s stand against negative stereotyping.