Pink Ken changes
“Graffiti” column (unsigned [Sean Matgamna]), SO 267, 17 April 1985
It must say something about the state of the left that the drift to the right of former leftists sometimes, incidentally, leads them to adopt better politics than they used to have before. Socialist Organiser has commented on this phenomenon, for example, when their move to the right led careerists like Neil Kinnock to drop the "identikit leftist" Little-England opposition to the EEC [EU].
And now Pink Ken Livingstone has changed his position on Zionism.
Remember that Livingstone used to talk about "Zionist" conspiracies to Gerry Healy's "Newsline" (see last week's SO). Though he spoke on many WRP platforms for three years, he never in the smallest degree dissociated himself from the antisemitic ravings of Healy's organisation.
But now all is changed. Last week Livingstone told a meeting at the National Union of Students conference in Blackpool that he now realises that Zionism is not "racism", but merely a form of "nationalism". Well done, Ken! Take 3 out of 10.
But what a comment all this is on Livingstone's past. More to the point, it is probably a comment on his future too. For during his years with Healy, Livingstone was no hot-eyed young rebel blinded by enthusiasm or anger into going along with whatever "politics" Healy dished up. He was a calculating operator who balanced everything he did and said according to the advantages of disadvantages it would bring to his career.
His was a self-serving relationship with the WRP - which provided the material basis for Labour Herald among other things - and with Ted Knight. As well as that, it served him well to mouth the consensus politics on the Middle East of the identikit left.
He differentiated himself from the protection of that consensus only at the point where Thatcher put him up against the gun and he had to choose between his career and defying the government. Then he gave into the government and openly broke with the left.
Probably he broke from the left for the same reasons that he had mouthed its slogans and ideas in the first place.
Just as he once adopted the career-indicated left-wing political colouring, now he adopts the career-indicated political colouring of the Labour centre. At heart Livingstone is not - as rumour has it - a newt, but a political chameleon! It so happens that the Labour Party centre politics Ken now accommodates to has a more sensible attitude to Zionism than the identikit left has.
So the former Red Ken valiantly strives to improve himself, in more senses than one! And he succeeds.
It was always highly improbable that Livingstone ever privately shared the positions he associated himself with and sometimes endorsed as part of his package deal with Healy and Knight. He is too urbane, too civilised a man to share in the stupid "anti-Zionist" demonology or in the antisemitism of Healy's WRP. The best thing about his administration at the GLC was its aggressive commitment to fight anti black racism. It just happened to suit what he thought were his career interests to appear to go along with Healy.
Of course, in a serious situation Ken Livingstone might surprise everybody, including Ken Livingstone. But in his career so far he has shown himself to be the very type of those much-discussed German and Central European politicians of the '30s and '40s who adapted themselves to antisemitism when that current was at its strongest and then after the war adapted themselves to the newly prevailing liberal anti-racist consensus.
He is of the type - for example - of Konrad Adenauer, who made a good career as the Catholic mayor of Cologne under the Nazis and lived to be Germany's post war "liberal-democratic" Chancellor, disavowing the crimes of the fascists whom he was never conspicuous in opposing when it might have made some difference.
Gerry Healy is not Hitler. He is not in a position to threaten to massacre "Zionists". But the type to which Livingstone belongs remains what it always was - politically spineless and soulless, and without commitment about anything other than the well-being of its practitioner.
And what it is in small scale and not very important things like Livingstone's participation in Gerry Healy's circus, that it will also be in big and important things in the future.
Unfair to Pink Ken
Letter from Edward Ellis [Clive Bradley] and reply [unsigned], SO 268, 24 April 1986
Last week's SO (no. 267) carried an article on Red Ken Livingstone that I feel went a bit over the top. The author of the article "Pink Ken changes" in the "Graffiti" column compared him to Konrad Adenauer "who made a good career as the Catholic mayor of Cologne under the Nazis and lived to be Germany's post war 'liberal democratic' Chancellor".
The basis for this charge is Livingstone's opportunism on the issue of Zionism: he will do what he has to to further his career.
I certainly have no sympathy for Livingstone. And I applaud SO's break with the anti-imperialism of idiots - the crude, latently, potentially and sometimes actually antisemitic logic to much of what has passed as anti-Zionism. People like Livingstone, who have indulged in world Zionist conspiracy arguments, deserve to have their faces rubbed in the dirt.
But however crass, careerist, and offensive Livingstone is, he is not a Nazi nor a Nazi collaborator.
Such charges are very serious and should never be made lightly. The imagery of the Second World War does much to obscure issues, and the endless desire of socialists to call their opponents "Nazis" is deeply unhealthy. It is to substitute name calling for political argument.
Edward Ellis, Deptford
Edward Ellis has simply got hold of the wrong end of the stick here. The Graffiti piece didn't say Livingstone is a "Nazi", or an antisemite. It said, precisely the opposite - that he is not an antisemite and that he was not deluded into sincerely believing the antisemite ravings of Gerry Healy, which he associated himself with and publicly endorsed.
That's the point! He went along with it because he thought it was to his advantage to do so. He was the man who "didn't notice", the "normal philistine citizen" with no convictions of his own who says what is expected of him (as when he chattily told Healy's Newsline yes, the BBC's allegations that the WRP gets Libyan money does look like a Zionist job on the WRP), and who tolerates anything from those people he expects benefit or favour from. And who can switch his line as casually as he changes his shirt when he thinks that it's to his advantage.
Konrad Adenauer was no Nazi. He was one of a vast number who tolerated and went along with the Hitler regime when it was in his interest to do so - and then became a new-fledged post war democrat when it was in his interest to do that. The point is that such people made the crimes of the Nazis possible either by their collaboration or by their passivity. Of course the Konrad Adenauers risked getting shot or jailed. What did Livingstone risk?
What is 'Zionism' today?
Mick Ackersley [Sean Matgamna], SO 289, 23.10.86
'Pillar of Fire' was made, as the credits say, for Channel Four by the Israeli Broadcasting Authority. It is therefore likely to be dismissed by the left as 'Zionist propaganda'. It shouldn't be.
Zionism is a term that has now ceased to have any very clear meaning. It originally meant a Jewish political movement aiming to set up a Jewish state in Palestine. The Zionists were a minority of Jews until well after Hitler took power in Germany.
With the founding and consolidation of the state of Israel in 1948 and after, the original 'Zionism' was consigned to history.
What does 'Zionism' mean today? The right of the Jewish state of Israel to exist, even if you would like to see it radically changed? In that sense probably a majority of politically aware people in the world, vastly though their outlooks differ, are 'Zionist'. In that sense, too, Socialist Organiser is 'Zionist'.
But the 'Zionism' that is denounced on the left is not some vast amorphous body. It is far narrower than that. In practice it means the Zionist hard core of activists and enthusiasts, that is the Jews.
The commitment of large chunks of the left to the destruction of the state of Israel inevitably leads it to adopt attitudes of deep hostility to Jews - not racist hostility, for the left is not racist, but political hostility - except that it is political hostility to almost an entire people, and on a matter of life and death.
'Pillar of Fire' tells a story which should make every 'anti-Zionist' socialist who sees it examine his or her conscience. For the facts do not lie. And though inevitably the story told by Pillar of Fire' is the story as seen by the Jews, and the series is thus 'biased', beyond that the facts are straightforward.
The late Isaac Deutscher compared Israel to a 'life-raft state' - the Jews who have survived the Holocaust fled there. The tragedy was and is that there were people there already.
Hitler - the most terrible enemy in the history of the Jews - made the state of Israel. In the 30s hundreds of thousands of Jews went to Palestine - because no other country would have them.
The great American democracy, whose Statue of Liberty invites the world to give me your poor, your huddled masses, could not find room for Jewish refugees even to save their lives. A shipload of Jewish refugees crossed the Atlantic but the few hundred passengers could not get permission to land in the USA - or anywhere else on the two American continents.
They returned to Europe on the eve of World War 2. Most of them perished.
There are many pictures of the millions of Jews of Eastern Europe going about their daily lives - traders, peddlers, scholars, children playing in the street - almost all of them destined to die soon at the hands of Hitler's racist maniacs.
In 1937 a Commission of Enquiry was set up by the British government which then ruled Palestine, and it recommended that Palestine be partitioned, giving the Jews their own state. It was shelved because of Arab opposition.
The Arab opposition was understandable enough: but maybe if the Jewish state had been set up, the Jews of Europe would have had a refuge, and millions might have survived. Instead the Jews of Europe were trapped on a continent which soon offered them nothing but death.
Palestine itself came close to being a death-trap for the Jews there. If the Germans and Italians had won the battle in the Western Desert in 1942, then Palestine would have been theirs. In fact the British had plans for evacuating Palestine.
Last week's episode told of the Holocaust - the systematic extermination of Jews which began with the Nazi invasion of the USSR in mid-41. In Poland, the Jews had been treated with great brutality and herded into a ghetto in Warsaw - the Jews the Nazis encountered in the USSR were slaughtered immediately.
Then came the extermination camps. All in all, nearly six million Jews died.
Presumably the next episode will show what happened when the few survivors of the death camps tried to pick up their lives again. In Poland, many were attacked and driven out: they fled, mostly to Palestine.
The terrible truth is that 'Zionist propaganda' had all its work - and much more - done for it by the virulent anti-semites and those who either connived with them or looked away.
'Pillar of Fire' made the telling point that though the Allied airforces had control of the air over Europe from mid 1944 and hit innumerable airports, depots, munitions factories, etc. (not to speak of cities), and though what was happening in the death camps was known to the Allied governments, no attempt was made to destroy the death factories or the railway lines leading to them.
Watch what's left of the series.
Not Zionist: 1
Clive Bradley, 20 290, 30.10.86
I disagree with some of what Mick Ackersley had to say in his review of Pillar of Fire, I didn't see the programme so I can't comment on it; but the review raises broader issues.
It is true that Zionism in its original sense has been 'confined to history' - the movement for separate Jewish state. But I cannot agree that Zionism as a term now means no more than the belief that the Israeli Jews have the right to a state. If this is so, the majority certainly of Israeli anti-Zionists and non-Zionists are 'Zionists'. I do not agree that SO's position is, or should be in any sense Zionist.
Much of what is reactionary and oppressive in the Israeli state flows from its specifically Zionist character. That it is defined as a state for all Jews rather than its citizens is not incidental; that Jews are free to immigrate to Israel but displaced Arabs are not, is not incidental either. These features, among others, define Israel as a Zionist state, and to understate this aspect of the issue is liable to lead to an underestimation of the problems posed by the Middle East conflict.
Similarly, it is right to condemn the anti-semitism of the 'democratic' Allies prior to 1948 in refusing to open their borders to Jews fleeing Hitler; but it seems to me to undermine that condemnation to add "maybe if a Jewish state had been created, the Jews of Europe would have had a refuge, and millions might have survived". Maybe. But far better, surely, if they had been able to escape to America, or Britain, where most of them would have preferred to go. And where were the communists, homosexuals, gypsies, trade unionists supposed to seek refuge? A 'refuge' was not the answer - as post-1948 history has tragically shown.
In any case, the fate of the 'refuge' would have depended on Allied military success in north Africa.
SO is right to bend the stick against the 'idiot anti-imperialists' on the question of the Middle East; but I think maybe there's a danger of bending it too far.
Not Zionist: 2
Bryan Edmands, SO 290, 30.10.86
I wish to correct the balance of, and one of the central assertions made in, the article "The making of the Jewish state" in SO 289.
Mick Ackersley states that "Zionism is a term that has now ceased to have any very clear meaning". However, as he asserts, it does mean the right of the Jewish state of Israel to exist", even if perhaps "radically" altered.
But the state of Israel, a state clearly based upon the democratic wishes of the vast majority of its Jewish people, is a state fundamentally resting upon the oppression of over 2.25 million Palestinian Arabs - Arabs scattered throughout the Middle East (and elsewhere) or forced to live under the Israeli state's military control of the annexed West Bank and Gaza Strip, not to mention the concentration camp-like ghettoes in South Lebanon, denied democratic, civil rights, expelled from their homelands.
To say that in a "sense", then, Socialist Organiser is "Zionist" is thus akin to saying that we support and condone all of this - and the manifestation of the Israeli government's foreign and domestic policy in the region, namely the continued and systematic terrorisation of the Palestinian and Arab peoples.
I understand the motivation behind the sentiments expressed in the article - there is no easy solution to this situation: and that most solutions put forward by the Left in essence reduce to an external and forceful destruction of not only the Israeli state but Jewish society and people!
But in trying to differentiate from this position Mick Ackersley has gone too far the other way!
Zionism is a thoroughly racist and reactionary ideology - one today based upon the maintenance of power of one people, the Jews, organised in their own militarised state, over that of a dispossessed and dispersed people, the Palestinian Arabs.
The terrible tragedy of the Jewish people is that in fleeing the Holocaust they built a homeland by the systematic brutalising and oppression of another people - a people who to this day continue a hard, bitter, misrepresented and all too often forgotten struggle against this reality.
Where 'anti-Zionism' leads
Jack Cleary [Sean Matgamna], SO 293, 20.11.86
Clive Bradley was one of the first two or three SO supporters to break away from the delusion we used to share with many on the left that the answer to the Jewish-Arab conflict is a "secular democratic state" in Palestine.
His comments on Mick Ackersley's review of "Pillar of Fire" are therefore significant, because, it seems to me, they are inspired by an emotional left-over from the old position and the attitudes that properly went with it.
Like ″Socialism", "Communism" and "Trotskyism", "Zionism" is now a pretty decayed word with lots of different meanings: it no longer defines something clearly - today you need additional information before you know what the word is being used for and what it means.
Its original - now its historic - meaning was clear enough; the goal of a Jewish state and activity to achieve it. Its logical meaning now, developing from its original meaning, should surely centre on the state created by the original Zionists and in one's attitude to that state. Those who support the right of the Jewish state, in some form, to exist, are, logically, "Zionists" - and that now includes a vast spectrum of opinion, including those, like SO, who are hostile to aspects of the existing Jewish state.
When we wanted to replace Israel with the mythical and impossible secular democratic state, we logically regarded all who supported Israel as Zionists of one sort or another. I did, certainly. Now we should try to be consistent and honest with ourselves.
If the word 'Zionism' could be forgotten about or left in its decayed form to the reforming Israeli critics of the Jewish state as a term of abuse for the Israeli establishment, fine. But we have to relate to the word 'Zionism' according to its use in the society around us, and especially its use on the left. For, though logically all who support Israel's right to existence are Zionists, 'Zionist' on the left now in fact means Jew.
It is the Jews who have the hard core commitment to Israel and from whom come Zionism's militants. It is the Jewish Zionists who are the target of the "no-free-speech-for-Zionists" campaigns.
It was surely established in our discussions in SO that the left's "anti-imperialism-of-idiots" Zionist-bashing is anti-semitic - a new form of anti-semitism, if you like, but antisemitic nonetheless.
It is anti-semitic not only because of its unique proposal to destroy a nation, but also because of what it implies towards most Jews outside Israel, who defend Israel's right to exist. That being so, we can distance ourselves from certain detestable policies and activities of the Israeli state; but to distance ourselves from 'Zionism' is neither consistent nor honourable.
No name, no mere word will saddle us with responsibility for the crimes of the Israeli state. But on the left now the violent repudiation of that word, when in fact it is used to mean Jew, would saddle us with some share of the responsibility for the latent, and sometimes rampant, anti-semitism implied in the left's attitude to Israel and 'Zionism' - and some responsibility for the left's vocal and active hostility to Jews ('Zionists') who refuse to break with Israel and Zionism and endorse the Arab goal of conquering and destroying the Jewish nation state.
Not Zionist: 3
Clive Bradley, SO 294, 27.11.86
If all that being a 'Zionist' meant or implied was support for the right of an Israeli Jewish nation to exist, and opposition to their forcible inclusion into a 'democratic secular state', I would have no quarrel with Mick Ackersley and Jack Cleary.
I am even prepared to concede that if that is all you mean by it, then I am a 'Zionist' too - it would be logically irrefutable.
But I don't think that is all it means. Zionism is an ideology - a decayed one, no doubt, but an ideology all the same. There are two claims in particular of this ideology that I think we should oppose.
First, is that the movement for the creation of Israel was a movement of Jewish national liberation. Whatever the subjective intentions of its adherents, it was in practice a movement of colonial conquest.
Second, even if it had not been a reactionary movement in this sense, the project of a Jewish state would have been a false method of fighting anti-semitism in Europe (as false as a notion of a 'homosexual state' for other victims of fascism): and a ridiculous method of developing a Jewish socialist movement as the 'socialist' Zionists believed.
Just history? I don't think so. Whilst. to repeat; defending the rights of the Jews, we have to explain the origins of the conflict. It is simply impossible to discuss the question of Palestine without doing so. These historical issues are therefore very live political issues.
And the Israeli state is recognisably Zionist - recognisably the product of the Zionist movement. It is a state for Jews, as opposed to a state for its citizens; Arabs expelled since its creation cannot live in it.
I oppose a programme to conquer Israel. I think that to propose the sell-obliteration of the Israeli Jewish nation is utopian rubbish. I think that the expelled Arabs have no absolute right, in the sense of a right that in principle could be enforced by external armies and thus conquest, to "return". But I do think they have a "right" in a more minimal sense, to live in Israel, and that their exclusion is chauvinist, indeed racist.
Zionism, minimally, is Israeli Jewish chauvinism. I do not think we should call ourselves 'Zionists' any more than, through support for Palestinian national rights, we should be Palestinian nationalists.
To do so obscures real political issues rather than clarifying them.
Against ideological terror
John O'Mahony [Sean Matgamna], SO 295, 4.12.86
After Clive Bradley's letter in last week's SO I'm not sure what his quarrel with Mick Ackersley and Jack Cleary is about. Clive objected to Mick Ackersley's assertion that Zionism logically means support for the right of Israel to exist and that those who support its right to exist are Zionist. Now Clive - who does support the right of Israel to exist - concedes that if this is all that is meant by 'Zionism' then he too is a Zionist: 'It would be logically irrefutable'.
Clive insists that Zionism means other things too. Yet nobody proposed that we formally adopt the name - or the ideas and attitudes - of the campaigning Zionists, who are usually Jewish chauvinists.
Israel was created by 'a movement of colonial conquest' - of sorts. But people who emphasise this are usually concerned with more than precise classification. They use it to justify a denial of Israel's right to exist and to back up a proposal to roll back the film of history by destroying the Jewish nation in Palestine. It encapsulates a reactionary Arab revanchist and chauvinist programme.
In any case support for Israel's right to exist does not necessarily imply support for the 'movement of colonial conquest'. We can only relate to that now as an event of past history.
Setting up a Jewish state was a false way to fight anti-semitism in Europe? I'm not so sure about that. By the end of his life Trotsky, though he rejected the Zionist enterprise in Palestine, had come round to the view that a Jewish state was necessary.
The historic fact is that Zionism wasn't able to save Europe's Jews from anti-semitism, or from massacre. Nothing but the socialist revolution would have saved the Jews.
The fascist armies might very well have got to Palestine - they almost did early in the war - and turned it into a death trap for the Jews. Yet that didn't happen. The Jews in Palestine survived, while the Jews of Poland and most of Europe were murdered in their millions. That fact makes one wish that what Isaac Deutscher called 'the life-raft state' had come into existence before the war.
History tells us that all methods of fighting anti-semitism in Europe failed, and that our method - assimilation - failed more thoroughly and disastrously than the Zionist method: and that it failed most completely in the country where the Jews had been most assimilated - Germany. Trotsky faced up to that fact after a lifetime spent as an assimilationist.
I don't conclude that, therefore, those who said to the Jews 'assimilate and fight for the socialist revolution' were wrong. The tragic outcome wasn't inevitable. But that's how it turned out.
The massacre of the Jews - like so much else - was a byproduct of the defeat of the revolutionary socialist workers' movement in the early twentieth century. But the workers were defeated; and the Jews were massacred; and as a knock-on effect terrible things were done - and are still being done - to the Palestinian Arabs (though incomparably less terrible things than were done to the Jews in Europe). From 1986 it is a matter of evaluating the history of the Jews in the 20th century and not what it was in 1900, a choice of programmes - Zionism or assimilation - to fight for.
Israel is a state for all Jews as opposed to a state for its citizens? Yes, but what is wrong with that?
As an ideal, a state in which Jews and Arabs would coexist as equal citizens is very attractive. But haven't we all agreed - very belatedly to be sure - that it is an utopia behind which hides the Arab chauvinist demand for the conquest and destruction of the Jewish nation?
Either the Jews have a right to their state, or they don't. And if they do we can't make it conditional on us liking or approving everything they do. Of course while defending Israel's right to exist we champion the Palestinian Arabs within Israel and on the occupied West Bank; we support those Jews who fight Jewish chauvinism and so on. I can't see why within that framework and within those qualifications - it is of special concern that Israel says all Jews in the world have a right to Israeli citizenship. Israel is a state conceived as a refuge for all the victims of anti-semitism - why demand that the Israelis forget this? The law of (Jewish) return and the treatment of the Palestinian Arabs are separable and should be separated.
Surely the big issue here, though, is not just whether our support for the right of the Jews to have a state makes us - strictly speaking - Zionist or not. What makes that important and worth arguing about is that 'Zionist' now is used on the left as a form of condemnation whose emotional content - used to bludgeon, intimidate and stigmatise - is about equal to the term 'racist' and not too far away from 'fascist'. That is the political issue here.
It is necessary for us to stand up to this thinly disguised antisemitism and to insist that it is based on ideological lies and on pseudo-historical myths about how Israel came into existence
Think about it. On the left 'the Zionists' - read the very big majority of Jews - are stigmatised as imperialists and racists of the very worst sort. Israel is imperialism incarnate, with its tentacles everywhere. It was the undercover workings of powerful Jewish conspirators which led to the creation of Israel. Comparisons with Nazism come easy to those who see it like this and are frequently used. It may be only the demented "Petrodollar anti-Zionists' of Gerry Healy's old WRP who say all this clearly, but nevertheless that picture is widespread.
All this - despite the crimes of Israel against the Palestinian Arabs - is preposterous! The Jews have been chief single victim of imperialism in the 20th century The supposedly all-powerful pre Israel world Jewish community couldn't even save its own from massacre. li couldn't secure entry visas for refugees from Nazism in to Britain, the USA, or into any other country - not even to save their lives,
The picture of Zionism and Israel as a creation and tool of imperialism (as distinct from an ally playing power politics with various imperialisms) is a grotesque historic libel and misrepresentation. That isn't how things happened, or why, whatever the long term plans and machinations of the Zionist movement. The Jews who made modern Israel possible fled to Palestine from murderous fascism, As late as the all-decisive war in 1948 Israel depended not on monopoly capitalist imperialism but on Moscow and its Czech satellite for the arms without which they might have lost.
The picture of modern history and the Jews' demonic place in it, now dominant on the left is if you think about it, not too far off a left-wing version of the 'blood libel' of the Christian anti-semites, according to which Jews murdered children during their religious rituals.
You don't need to regard Israel and Zionists as they are regarded on much of the left to be able to oppose and condemn aspects of Israel and to demand justice for the Palestinian Arabs.
In fact our equivalent of the blood libel - which owes a great deal to the thinly disguised anti-semitism of the Stalinist movement and its post 1948 campaigns against 'Zionism' - serves another purpose: It backs up and legitimises 'socialist' support for the Arab chauvinist programme of conquering and annihilating the Jewish nation in Palestine.
Clive Bradley has as little time for this horrible nonsense as I have. But I think he hasn't freed himself from emotional attitudes and from hints and halt thoughts which imply attitudes and policies he both rejects and condemns.
The job of SO is to help the left scour itself clean of the new antisemitism. That is why, working in a political milieu in which Zionism is used as a demonological name tag to morally blackjack and ideologically terrorise Jews who stand up to the hysterical "anti-Zionists", SO cannot afford to go along even part of the way with the blackjackers. If we are Zionists, so then we are Zionists.
A perverse definition
Martin Thomas, SO 297, 8.1.87
Faced with rising anti-semitism in late 19th century Britain, Eleanor Marx used to declare at public meetings, 'I am a Jewess'.
Strictly speaking she wasn't, but she wanted to confront the anti-semites head on.
The position of Mick Ackersley and Jack Cleary is in some ways similar. Faced with anti-Zionists who say that if they defend the rights of the Israeli Jewish nation then they're Zionists, they respond: "So I'm a Zionist. So what?"
The impulse is clearly honourable. But the logic, I think, is faulty. Zionism had a clear meaning before 1948. Marxists opposed Zionism. They regarded it as a tragically mistaken attempt by the oppressed to respond to oppression, rather than as an anti-Arab imperialist conspiracy: but they opposed it.
They were right to oppose it, I thinks and I believe Mick Ackersley and Jack Cleary would agree. But an Israeli Jewish nation now exists and however it came into existence, it has rights.
Crude anti-Zionists often refer to the Israeli Jewish nation as 'the Zionists'. They evade the issue of the rights of the Israeli Jewish nation by first reducing the Israeli Jews to a political group ('Zionists') and then reducing Zionist politics to the driving out of the Palestinian Arabs.
Now most Israeli Jews would accept the label 'Zionist'. And historic Zionism did mean the driving out of the Palestinian Arabs. But historic Zionism also meant many other things. And the big majority of Israeli Jews are Israeli Jews not because of an ideological choice but because they were born in Israel or found Israel as refuge from persecution. So the 'anti-Zionist' definition grossly distorts the reality.
Then the 'anti-Zionists' add an inescapably anti-semitic twist by proceeding further in the same line of argument and extending the term 'Zionist' to all those (Jews) who feel a special national allegiance to the Israel Jewish nation.
Even as a gambit in debate, saying "So then I'm a Zionist too; so what?" is a more confusing that clarifying response. Obviously we - Mick Ackersley, Jack Cleary, myself - do not feel any special national allegiance to the Israeli Jewish nation above all others. Rather, we defend the rights of that nation like all others.
The point is to separate out all the different elements blurred together in the word 'Zionism'. It is crucial to insist that the Marxist opposition to historic Zionism has no bearing on the issue of the rights of the modern Israeli Jewish nation.
There is another problem. In Israeli and wider Jewish politics, 'Zionism' has a current meaning which is narrower than Jack Cleary's 'logical' definition as meaning defending the right of Israel to exist (maybe with modifications).
The narrower meaning is: seeing the state of Israel as having some mystic mission for the redemption (physical, social or spiritual) of the whole worldwide Jewish people; and therefore seeing it as having not just rights proper to the Israeli Jewish nation as to any other nation, but special, additional rights, higher than those of other national entities.
I don't particularly advocate this narrower meaning as 'my' definition of Zionism. But it is certainly more logical than Jack Cleary's (one can very well condemn historic Zionism yet be a 'Zionist' in Jack Cleary's definition).
And another thing: in the general British labour movement we can very well deal with the crude 'anti-Zionists' by saying that their use of 'Zionism' is an ideological amalgam, and by insisting on defining issues more precisely: the politics of the state of Israel, and the rights of the Israeli Jewish nation, non-Israeli Jewish identification with that nation, etc.
But it is almost impossible to participate in Israeli, or broader Jewish, politics without accepting the narrower definition of Zionism, at least provisionally. And to have 'our' definition of Zionism in which almost all Jewish and Israeli anti-Zionists, and a sizeable spectrum of Palestinian nationalists, are 'Zionists', is perverse.
In the Zionist camp
Tony Greenstein, SO 298, 15.1.87
When, some 18 months ago, Socialist Organiser began debating its position on Zionism/Palestine, we forecast that SO would move into the Zionist camp.
Moshe Machover of Matzpen, the Socialist Organisation in Israel, was invited to participate in that debate, because he too disagreed with the democratic, secular state position. Were he to read John O'Mahony's article (4 December) he would, I am sure, disagree with it in its entirety. Moshe is one of those who struggled to win a previously Zionist left over to an anti-Zionist position. O'Mahony seeks to do the opposite.
By his own admission he is a Zionist supporter and despite all that has been written on the Zionist movement, its colonial roots, its reactionary role in Jewish politics, he has learnt nothing and forgotten all. He has even confused the terms 'Jewish' and 'Zionist' and then accused the rest of the Left of anti-semitism for the same sin!
Zionism never was a method of fighting anti-semitism. It held antisemitism couldn't be fought, far better to come to terms with it and establish their own state. For most Jews it wasn't even a means of escape. Some 2.5 million Jews who did flee went not to Palestine but to Britain and America.
Describing those who believed that the Bolshevik Revolution made Zionism irrelevant, Chaim Weizmann, the first President of Israel, wrote "Nothing can be more superficial and nothing can be more wrong than that. The sufferings of Russian Jewry never were the cause of Zionism."
Similar statements were made by Ben Gurion during the Nazi era and the leader of American Zionism. Abba Hillel Silver. Israel was not conceived as a refuge for all the victims of anti-Semitism (otherwise it could hardly have seen in antisemitism a force for good that stimulated emigration) but the only means of preserving the Jewish people as a collectivity. It was the response of the Jewish petit bourgeoisie.
It is beyond doubt that the Zionist movement obstructed the movement to save Jews from the Holocaust, terming it 'refugeeism', e.g. it opposed the lowering of the immigration movements in Britain and the US arguing that the refugees should go to Palestine. Nor is it true that all methods of fighting anti-semitism in Europe failed.
Not only, by Begin's own admission, did some two million Jews survive by escaping into Russia, degenerated as the revolution was, but opposition to anti-semitism in countries such as Denmark (where the entire Jewish community was smuggled out to Sweden), Bulgaria and Italy did prevent many more News being killed. In Holland there was even a general strike against the deportations which the Zionist Judenrat opposed. Whose reading of history is false?
Even today, far from being the 'life-raft state', Israel jeopardises the position of Jews in the diaspora with its genocide of the Palestinians. What was Israel doing when over 2,000 young leftist Jews were being tortured to death in Argentina? Selling arms to the Junta. And the Zionist leaders of that community? Telling others not to make a fuss. Compare that to the Zionist campaign over Soviet Jewry.
Nothing in Trotsky's writings leads one to the conclusion that he supported the Zionist enterprise in Palestine. In July 1940, just before his death, he wrote: "The attempt to solve the Jewish question through the migration of Jews to Palestine can now be seen for what it is, a tragic mockery of the Jewish people... Never was it so clear as it is today that the salvation of the Jewish people is bound up inseparably with the overthrow of the capitalist system."
O'Mahony's obsession with antisemitism blinds him to the fact that anti-semitism today in Europe is not, unlike 50 years ago, state sponsored. It is a personal form of racism, confined to fringe fascist groups. It is black people in Britain, Arab people in France, Turkish workers in Germany who experience state racism. Jewish people have socially moved upwards and politically moved rightwards.
That is why we say that antisemitism has been redefined and the term 'black anti-semitism' like 'left anti-semitism' is used as a means of countering opposition to Zionism.
Racism is not merely a question of personal prejudice, but at the level of class, a specifically oppressed section of the working class. Apart from France, there is no Jewish working class in the West, unlike the 1930s. The Jewish people have changed and with it anti-semitism.
As Abram Leon noted, "Zionism transposes anti-semitism to all of history, it saves itself the trouble of studying the various forms of antisemitism and their evolution" (Jewish Question, p. 247). If Jews today, unlike the Jews of the East End who fought the fascists, base their identity around Israel, then that is a reactionary identity.
Zionism as a colonial movement is not something of the past. Internal colonisation has been a continuing feature of Israel's existence. Today's operations on the West Bank are no different to what it did in the Galilee.
O'Mahony asks what is wrong with Israel being a state for all Jews as opposed to all its citizens. The answer is racism, not merely in this or that policy but in every single face of the State's operations.
It means Israel's Arabs are at best tolerated and at worst unwanted. It means the growth of Kach and Tehiya, it means apartheid and expulsion. It means concern over the 'demographic problem', i.e. too many Arabs.
The article demolishes other straw targets. Socialists did not advocate assimilation as a strategy, neither do we mourn it. Only incorrigible reactionaries would consciously seek to preserve differences of caste or religion where individuals choose otherwise,
Nobody on the Left believes Jews have a 'demonic place' in history. Those of us who are Jewish and whose opposition to Zionism came as a consequence of our revolutionary socialism understand not only Zionism's relationship to antisemitism but also its reactionary role within Jewish politics.
Even the Jewish Socialists' Group understand that Israel feeds off the diaspora Jewish communities, contributing nothing to their well-being.
Instead of an analysis which sees Israel as an artificial state, which can not exist other than in alliance with imperialism, O'Mahony resorts to moral relativism. Jews are 'the chief single victim of imperialism in the 20th century'. 'Incomparably less terrible things' were done to the Jews than to the Palestinians.* This ranking of hierarchies is ironically attacked on the facing page [of that issue of SO] by Ms Carlisle and Ashworth.
Even were these statements true they would be irrelevant. Since when has support for a democratic, secular state been part of reactionary Arab chauvinism? It is a demand that is rejected by all the Islamic chauvinists. Unfortunately, Socialist Organiser, in refusing to give any meaningful support to the Palestinians - either in the labour movement or in National Union of Students (where it is to the right of most reformists and on a par with Militant) has accommodated to imperialism.
As for helping the left scour itself clean of anti-semitism, this in itself speaks volumes about O'Mahony's analysis of racism - it's not located in society but in individuals. However not wishing to stand in his way, I suggest an open debate between ourselves and John O'Mahony in which he will have the opportunity to begin scouring.
* This sentence appears here as written in the original manuscript.
Huffing and puffing
Steve Channon, SO 299, 22.1.87
Oh the rhetorical polemic of Tony Greenstein (SO. 15 January)... So much huffing and puffing but very little in the way of actual accuracy. Yet another tirade of half-truths, sheer fantasy and what the writer would not doubt claim to be anti-Zionism and nothing more.
Firstly there is the question of Zionism and the Holocaust. In the inimitable style of the new breed of (left wing) Holocaust revisionists, Greenstein attempts to justify his illogical analysis with plain lies.
The truth is that Zionists were at the forefront of the resistance against the Nazis - in the ghettos, concentration camps and towns - and to label the Judenrat and others who did not resist as 'Zionists' is crass reactionary stereotyping of the worst order.
Jews did not die in the Holocaust because of so-called 'Zionist collaboration' but because of the failure of the working class and indeed the entire world to resist the Nazis. Don't attempt to blame Jews (or Zionists, it's the same thing really) for antisemitism - that is the sole responsibility of the antisemites.
True, there was some support offered against the Hitlerite regime by certain states or people but the fact the matter remains that these were isolated incidents. The majority actively assisted or passively accepted the attempted genocide of the Jewish people. That is why six million Jew were slaughtered and, as the renowned Marxist intellectual Isaac Deutscher wrote:
"If instead of arguing against Zionism in the 1920s and 1930s, I had urged European Jews to go to Palestine, I might have helped save some of the lives that were later extinguished in Hitler's gas chambers.'
Secondly, there is Greenstein's marginalisation and trivialisation of anti-semitism in contemporary society. However, state racism still exists against Jews in countries such as Syria and the USSR.
The truth of the situation is that anti-semitism remains the binding force of international fascism today - it is what links the National Front to Farrakhan and to the neo-Nazi AWB in South Africa. Anti-semitism is still very much at the core of racist and fascist ideology.
It may not be so evident as, say, the oppression of blacks in this country, but to dismiss it as fringe, with it being at the bottom of Greenstein's league table of oppression, is hardly a socialist response.
But if one is to believe Greenstein's analysis then the reason why antisemitism is not like it was 50 years ago is neither due to socialism nor Zionism but to capitalism. For according to the writer it is the process of bourgeoisification that has reduced anti-semitism to the fringe!
Then again, such a reduction of anti-semitism and intellectual perversion is hardly surprising from someone like Tony Greenstein.
Zionism is still racism
Bryan Edmands, SO 299, 22.1.87
Our stand against anti-semitism is both important and commendable. However, this has nothing to do with support for present day Israel.
Well-documented histories of the racism of the Israeli state since its proclamation in May 1948; of the preceding 30 years of Zionist encouraged and organised immigration to Palestine; and of the propaganda used by Zionists which often (purposely) served the interests of anti-semites exist.
It is now undoubtedly true that due in large part to the systematic and brutal terrorisation of the Palestinians, that Israel is held in contempt and haired by not only Palestinians but all Arab peoples.
This brings me to the question: the above being the case, what should Socialist Organiser's position be?
I believe the basis of it should be: condemnation of the state of Israel; support for the Palestinian struggle; neighbouring Arab governments are no real friends of the Palestinians or indeed of their own working classes (they are their class enemies); a call - addressed to the only agency that could possibly carry it out, short of there being socialism in a good part of the world), the Jewish working class - that Israel should renounce all expansionist claims and move back to the very least its pre-1967 boundaries; and to begin to make extensive reparations, both in terms of financial aid and technical know-how if so desired by the Palestinians.
Unlike the supporters of the 'democratic secular state' I agree that if there is a desire by Jews for some territorial expression of nationhood (and likewise the Palestinians), and accepting the reality that history has placed before us, some modification of pre-1967 Israel should be established through negotiations between the Jewish working class and the Palestinians.
As Trotsky said in October 1934. in a reply to a letter from a group of Jewish Left Oppositionists working inside the Soviet Union:
"... for the Jews, as for any nation, the very best circumstances for cultural development should be created). This means, inter alia: to provide for those Jews who desire to have their own schools, their own press, their own theatre, etc., a separate territory for self administration and development... In the sphere of the national question there must be no restraint: on the contrary there must be an all-sided material assistance for the cultural needs of all nationalities and ethnic groups".
It is not from emotionalism that we condemn Israel and support the Palestinians - it is in the name of democracy!
It is certainly not anti-semitic to condemn Zionism as an ideology, utterly and completely.
It is semantic nonsense to attempt to define Zionism away by saying that it now just expresses a desire for Jewish territorial rights.
The 'Law of Return' should be challenged, though not denied by us, on the basis that Israel is a diversion (and not a safe haven) from the class struggle. Jewish people would do better to fight for socialism in their countries of birth, rather than seeking a refuge along a spiritual/religious path.
Finally, Zionism is racism, of a peculiarly Jewish form true, but still racism.
So to assert as comrade O'Mahony does that 'if we are Zionists, then we are Zionists' does nothing in aiding Jewish people, the Palestinians, and the working class, but on the contrary, gives cover to Zionism and ammunition to our enemies.
Rights and wrongs
Clive Bradley, SO 300, 29.1.87
Perhaps the clearest way to reply to John O'Mahony's comments (Letters, SO 295) is to explain briefly my overall views.
Much of what passes as 'anti-Zionism' is implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, anti-semitic. The nice sounding programme of a 'secular, democratic stale' is a utopia, and in fact could only be implemented by force. In reality, whatever people mean by it, it is a programme unrealisable except by military conquest of Israel.
If it is supposed to be voluntary on the Jews' part, it is not an answer lo the national question. A long (who could know how long?) process of chance of heart by the Jews is not much of a programme for Palestinians facing oppression now. Withdrawal of Israeli forces from the post-1967 occupied territories, combined with the right of secession of majority Arab areas within pre-'67 Israel, is a big part of an immediate democratic programme.
So, I support Israel's right to exist. I agree with John O'Mahony that this is an unconditional right - that is, it is ridiculous to say that we support the conquest of Israel until such time that Israel is a nicer place. I am completely opposed to the conquest of Israel.
John O'Mahony says that we should champion the rights of the Palestinians, and support Jews fighting Jewish chauvinism. On what basis, though? What does opposition to Jewish chauvinism mean?
It seems to me that it must include trenchant criticism of the refusal or Jews to countenance a large influx of Arabs into their state. We should not advocate 'return' on the point of a chauvinist's gun, nor deny the Jews rights until they agree to allow Arabs in. The agency for opposition to the racist, exclusivist character of Israel, and therefore for change, is the working class in Israel.
But Israel is exclusivist, and we do have a socialist responsibility to oppose this exclusivism. Israel's right to exist is not conditional upon it ceasing to be exclusivist, but opposition to its exclusivism should be part of our programme.
Israel's definition as a state for Jews rather than its citizens, which O'Mahony sees no problem with, is in expression of this exclusivism. It is part of the institutional structure that denies Arabs rights within Israel.
Because of this, I think it is wrong to identify ourselves with 'Zionists' even in a quiet way to make a stance against the hysterical 'anti-Zionists'. The Zionist movement - though not, of course, all individual Zionists - are our political enemies.
I think it is possible both to make stand against anti-semitism on the left and to maintain a socialist critique of the Israeli state.
A socialist federation
Duncan Chapple, SO 302, 12.2.87
Adam Woolf in SO-296 is quite wrong to say that John O'Mahony is in any way "condoning racist oppression". Even so there are some points John made I'd like to comment on.
Socialist Organiser takes a 'two states' position on the Middle East. Why? Not because we support Israeli national chauvinism, but because we recognise the national rights of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. That leads us to reject the formula of a military conquest of Israel.
SO supporters do not condone racism: we take the lead of Lenin on the national question in supporting national rights; but that should not lead us to support the state of Israel in the way John O'Mahony seems to.
What we want is class unity for a socialist federation of the Middle East. Recognising those national rights lays a basis for building that unity. We want to smash the Israeli state only so far as we want to smash all "states", in as much as they are mechanisms for oppression.
The yes/no choice O'Mahony seems to offer ignores that there is more than one alternative. It ignores that our support for Israel to exist is based on our opposition to that blood-bath, not on support for Israeli-Jewish oppression and chauvinism, nor because we see Israel's existence as the best possible state of affairs in the Middle East.
Double standards and anti-Zionism
Sean Matgamna (written at the time of the previous contributions in this section, but not published until the first edition of this pamphlet)
I don't know what Tony Greenstein was doing getting himself involved in the SO discussion on Zionism. Apart from Greenstein it was a discussion between people all of whom share a certain common commitment to:
• The right of both the Israeli Jewish nation and the Palestinian Arabs to a state in Palestine - the two stales position..
Opposition to the Judaeophobic 'anti-Zionism' that is dominant on the left; and
• Hostility to Israeli-Jewish chauvinism, and to Israel's treatment of its 'own' Arabs and those on the West Bank.
But Greenstein is a hard man to keep out. That's all right, except that he tends to drag the discussion down, and this time he did that too. Yet I welcome his presence in the discussion because it serves a useful purpose.
It demonstrates that you can't - despite what people like Martin Thomas think - have a calm, elevated, abstract, scholarly or pseudo-scholarly discussion on the mere meaning of the word Zionism. It is a living question of politics: the whole network of questions - of history and so on - cannot be separated from the central political questions at Middle East politics now: one state or two? the right of the Jewish nation to exist or the right of the Arabs to destroy it?
You cannot in the political arena discuss the meaning of 'Zionism' apart from current politics, or separate such a discussion from the attitude we should take, as socialists and democrats, to Jews and 'Zionists' who defend the right of Israel to exist and refuse to accept the ultimatum that they are posed with by much of the left - endorse the demand that the people of the Jewish state agree to dissolve themselves in an Arab secular democratic state, or be branded (like Israel) as racists and imperialist stooges,
Thus Martin Thomas's letter is typically balanced, and a fair-minded summary of what has gone before - but it's five miles above the political terrain on which we operate. It simply does not engage with the political questions I have tried to take up. It doesn't relate to, let alone answer, the problem that we need to answer - that anti-Zionism mostly means antisemitism on the left, and moreover that it is part of a massive political infection. Or the fact that by running before the hysterical anti-Zionists we give their campaign extra power and momentum, and abandon those who cannot so readily solve their dilemmas by adding their own curses to a word - Zionism.
Martin Thomas should think about the very flattering analogy he makes between those of us who would be prepared to accept, with qualifications, the label Zionist, and Eleanor Marx's declaration during the anti-Jewish agitation in Britain that she was a Jewess. I think Martin misunderstands what she was doing. I don't think she was just making a romantic personal gesture. Eleanor Marx was a well-known and respected trade union activist among the East End workers. She had helped organise match workers, gas workers, dockers, and others, helping to start what is today the GMBATU. She taught the union's first secretary, Will Thorne, how to read and write.
Surely Eleanor Marx was trying to counter the xenophobia, the fear of aliens and outsiders, by identifying 'Jews' with someone her listeners know and accepted. SO has taught few on the left to read either English or Marxian, and there are those, in the hard left and the soft left, who would brand us ourselves as aliens; but still, something can be gained by making a demonstrative stand against the anti-Zionist hysteria - and all the more so if we combine this, as we should, with honest defence of the oppressed Palestinian Arabs and support for the anti-chauvinists within Israel.
The point was made very early in the discussion that Zionism is a word with more than one meaning. By now it is a pretty decayed word. I think the logical meaning is what Jack Cleary said: acceptance of the right of Israel to exist. Martin Thomas says that the Israeli left use 'Zionism' to mean the idea that the Israeli Jewish nation has rights above all other nations. All right! But how many copies of SO go to Israel? If we were in Israel we could adopt the terminology of the left, and we'd have no reason to quarrel about it. In Britain we have, and that's the point of this discussion.
Greenstein takes advantage of the use of 'Zionism' in Israel to go all over the place on what is and what isn't Zionism. He is also dishonest.
Leave aside the dispute about words and labels for a moment. As far as I know almost all the Israeli left anti-Zionists are in favour of the right of (a modified) Israeli State to exist; they are against Israel being subjugated; they reject the secular democratic state slogan. Whether they choose to call themselves Zionists or not, they fit what our side in the discussion has been defining as 'Zionist'. They are not in Greenstein's 'anti-Zionist' camp. And, of course, the issue that concerns us over the use of the term 'Zionist' does not arise for them. In Israel Zionophobia can hardly be a code for Judaeophobia.
I did not 'admit' that I am 'a Zionist supporter' in any sense Greenstein uses. I do not support or accept responsibility for the crimes of the Israeli state, and no amount of play with words can saddle me with that responsibility. I want to defend the rights of Zionists and of Jews, not Israel's treatment of the Palestinian Arabs.
Have I "confused" the terms "Jew' and "Zionist″: and then accused the rest of the left of anti-semitism for the same sin! More small-beer polemical trickery! At issue here is a question of fact: is it or is it not true that most Jews instinctively support Israel? The only exceptions are some very religious Jews and a thin smattering of revolutionary socialists.
It is not a matter of imposing the 'Zionist' label on Jews who would not accept it, a substitution of a 'congenital' Zionist definition of Zionism for the proper one, but of defining rigorously what exists now. Either we accept that any emphatic hostility to "Zionists" is in effect hostility to Jews, or we try to evade this problem by using Zionist as a tag only for the allegedly super-villainous super-Zionists. But who are these? There are specifically Zionist organisations. But a broad campaign against such people for their pro-Israel stand, or for the crimes of Israel, is impossible without at the first move clawing in most 'Zionists' in the wider definition.
Greenstein says that Zionism was never a method of fighting antisemitism. It certainly wasn't our method - though I think it is a requirement of political honesty to re-examine our methods and the others in the light of what actually happened. What bourgeois Europe in its mid-20th century nationalist convulsions did to six million Jews does, it seems to me, in retrospect powerfully support the reasoning of the Jewish nationalists.
The logic does not dispose of the objections to the Zionist project - in the first place the existence of the Palestinian Arabs. However, it suggests to me some sympathy with the Zionists and their terrible choices and dilemmas. I have no wish to defend or endorse the policies of historical Zionism. These were bourgeois, and also were steeped in the 'small nation' psychology and ways of working of the Jewish communities, who for centuries had lived and manoeuvred for survival in a sea of more or less rampant hostility.
Zionism's break with that past was inevitably only partial. It could only be partial. Zionism could only operate by trying to play realpolitik with more or less hostile powers - and, under the Nazis, at gunpoint. That is the fate of all small peoples and states caught up in the cross-currents of the competition between the big states, and the Jewish nationalists had no secure undisputed territory of their own, nor even, in almost all of Europe after 1940-1, general recognition that their people had a right to stay alive.
It is possible to understand the various shifts to which the Zionists were driven without necessarily endorsing them - and without shifting to the standpoint of Jewish nationalism. It is possible to sympathise with the Jewish nationalists without thereby ignoring the Palestinian Arabs or failing to sympathise with them and support their just demands. I think we should do that.
But it seems to me that sympathy, understanding, or even retrospective endorsement of the Zionist movement would be a thousand times more appropriate to the facts of modern Jewish history than the stupid demonology, based on utterly dishonest pseudo-history, in which Greenstein, Brenner, etc. engage.
For Greenstein to deny that Zionism was an attempt to tackle anti-semitism because 'logically' Zionism accepted antisemitism and tried to build a Jewish nation as the answer to it, is logic-chopping. To go on to depict the various machinations of the Zionists with anti-semites as burdening them with some share of the responsibility for the Holocaust is obscene. Greenstein's argument is not proper historical discussion, but a contrived use of history to preach a message about the present. Its only real content is hysterical ind incoherent emotionalism about the present-day relations of Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.
Some Zionists spoke of anti-semitism as a force for good? But such views can be paralleled by statements from other radicals and nationalists about the ennobling or identity-restoring or galvanising effects of oppression. For example, try reading the most influential modern Irish Catholic nationalist, Patrick Pearse. You could cite remarks like his greeting of World War 1 in the name of an Ireland now offered the chance to expel Britain according to the Fenian axiom, Britain's difficulty is Ireland's opportunity, "The tired old Earth needed to be refreshed with blood", and you could depict him as a fascist-minded maniac. He was very far from being anything like that,
The Zionists put nation-building above "refugeeism": as they saw it, they wanted a fundamental solution rather than palliatives. But the fact is that Zionism became a majority movement among Jews because Jews turned to it under the blows of Nazism.
There was some successful resistance to anti-semitism in Nazi Europe, says Greenstein. True. But three million surviving and six million murdered is not a good testimonial for assimilation... At the end of World War 2, Europe's. surviving Jews overwhelmingly wanted to go to Palestine rather than to the USSR, or Denmark, or Holland, where workers had struck to save Jews. Why? Not because of the demon power of Zionism, but because they no longer trusted any promises of toleration and equal rights. They were resolved to trust only their own people.
But, despite Greenstein's determination to avoid it, the point of the argument does show through when he says that 'Israel jeopardises the position of Jews in the diaspora with its genocide (sic) of the Palestinians'. How, exactly? Because the 'anti-Zionist' agitation against Israel inevitably claws in all Jews.
Greenstein's answer to this problem is to join in the Zionophobic agitation, and to sanitise it morally with the demand that Jews support the destruction of Israel or stand condemned as 'Zionists' and racists.
We would not have advocated Zionist solutions before 1948. In fact our movement opposed those solutions and fought for different ones though, and it bears repeating, the politics of the entire Trotskyist movement before 1948 (including Tony Cliff, who now tells a different story) bore little relationship to the present Zionophobia and honorary Arab nationalist politics that have since become "Trotskyism". In any case the Jewish nation-state in Israel is now a fact.
Greenstein tries to evade the issue of the rights of that nation, and its possible place in any democratic or socialist future, by instead polemicising against Zionists of the first half of this century. It is an evasion and an underhand way of trying to justify having the same attitude to a whole people (the Israeli Jews, and all other Jews who identify with Israel) as to a rival ideological tendency. Clive Bradley is right that we have to discuss the roots of Israel (and that discussion will include criticism of Zionism before 1948) - but we must not confuse the roots with the tree that has developed from it.
I never said that Trotsky supported the Zionist enterprise in Palestine. But I did show - at some length - that Trotsky concluded in the 1930s that a Jewish state was necessary. Greenstein quotes Trotsky: "The attempt to solve the Jewish question through the migration of Jews to Palestine can now be seen for what it is, a tragic mockery of the Jewish people... Never was it so clear is it is today that the salvation of the Jewish people is bound up inseparably with the overthrow of the capitalist system".
This is an example of 'cunning' dogmatism used to stop thought. Trotsky sought to defeat anti-semitism through socialist revolution. He was defeated. There was no socialist revolution. Six million Jews were massacred. Then, in the aftermath of that defeat, Israel was established. Greenstein's implication here is that Trotsky's struggle in the 1930s for socialist revolution justifies the destruction of Israel today, because Israel arose as a result of the defeat of socialist revolution and the victory of a programme Trotsky fought against. But that is absurd.
Oddest, but most revealing of all, is Greenstein's stuff about anti-semitism. "Anti-semitism today in Europe is not, unlike 30 years ago, state-sponsored. It is a personal form of racism, confined to fringe fascist groups. It is black people in Britain, Arab people in France, Turkish workers in Germany who experience state racism. Jewish people have socially moved upwards and politically moved rightwards.
"That is why we say that anti-semitism has been redefined and the term 'black anti-semitism' like 'left antisemitism' is used as a means of countering opposition to Zionism.
"Racism is not merely a question of personal prejudice, but at the level of class, a specifically oppressed section of the working class. Apart from France, there is no Jewish working class in the West, unlike the 1930s. The Jewish people have changed, and with it anti-semitism".
This could be better put, but Greenstein seems to be saying that anti-semitism today, even if it exists, doesn't matter. In the first place, it is not state-sponsored, like Nazi anti-semitism in the 1930s or the discrimination through immigration laws and so on against blacks, Turks and Arabs. (As if even the worst of the racism suffered by blacks in Britain, Arabs in France and Turks in Germany today is in the same order of things as the 'state anti-semitism' of the 30s!)
Moreover, only workers can experience real antisemitism; or at any rate anti-semitism does not matter much if it does not target Jewish workers. Even to talk of anti-semitism (black anti-semitism, or left anti-semitism) today is a means of countering opposition to Zionism. To protest at anti-semitism is to play the Zionists' game, as it might have been put in the sort of Stalinist polemics in which the now-prevailing 'left anti-Zionism' first made its appearance nearly 40 years ago.
This version of a Marxist attitude to racism, if it makes any sense at all, is economistic - assuming that we should be concerned about oppression and prejudice only as they immediately affect the working class. It also contains a prize bit of historical obtuseness.
Where does Greenstein think that state-sponsored antisemitic racism of '50 years ago' came from? Did it spring into being fully-formed from a ruling-class brainstorm? No! The anti-semitism which in its Hitlerite version proved lethal for two-thirds of Europe's Jews had been evolving, developing, inter-breeding and cross-fertilising for many decades. Part of the cross-fertilising came from left-wing anti-semitism - the well-named 'socialism of idiots'. 1930s anti-semitism did not begin with state racism.
Greenstein argues: "If Jews today, unlike the Jews of the East End who fought the fascists, base their identity around Israel, then that is a reactionary identity". And hostility to that 'reactionary identity' - what weak-minded a-historical people would call anti-semitism - is... what? Progressive? Or at any rate not reactionary? On the good side, that of the Arabs and the anti-imperialists?
Greenstein says that I am 'obsessed' with anti-semitism. No. Of course I am concerned about anti-semitism. But I am 'obsessed', or at any rate very concerned, with something else too - the state of the left.
I do think that anti-semitism is alive and a serious problem, and that it could become a very big problem in the future. Explicit anti-semitism has grown in Britain in recent years. Nevertheless, I agree that antisemitism is not now the main racism, or the most burning question of oppression in Britain. Anti-semitism is a burning, unpostponable issue for the left not only because of what it means now, immediately, for Jews in Britain, but because of what it means for the left.
Greenstein's central thesis is that some of the victims of Nazi race-murder - 'the Zionists' - shared responsibility for the attempted genocide, and therefore that Israel, constructed by Zionists, does not have the right to exist. Zionism was always the central enemy of the Jews (and of others). It is a demon responsible even, in part, for the slaughter of the Jews in World War 2.
Yet Greenstein is not an isolated crank. Nor is Lenni Brenner, whose writings, though vastly superior to Greenstein's and seemingly more 'balanced', also use history just as a source of material for preconceived and preposterously one-sided polemic. Greenstein's and Brenner's ideas are widely accepted on the left, sometimes in diluted form, and sometimes even in cruder versions, as in Jim Allen's recent play 'Perdition'.
No socialist can defend or justify Israeli chauvinism or Israel's treatment of the Arabs within and on its borders. I have no desire to. I condemn those policies. The problem, though, is that Greenstein's camp is concerned to make the case for the destruction - not the modification, the destruction of the Jewish state - and in that cause it exaggerates and distorts without scruple.
No doubt there are Jewish racists in Israel. But what is elsewhere, in other countries, defined as nationalism, is here routinely translated as racism. The state of Israel is a vile capitalist state. Let us treat it as we treat other vile capitalist states - advocate a working-class revolution, and support the right for other nations oppressed by that state to get out from under its oppression.
For Greenstein this is ruled out. Israel does not have the right to exist. He sides against it with other vile capitalist states - all of them far viler towards the people they consider their own than Israel is to its own - and denounces Jews who don't agree as Zionists, pro-imperialists, and racists.
This is double standards - or no standards, except the standards of wartime 'say what you need to say' propaganda.