How Antisemitism Poisons the Left

As all good stories begin, a tweet:

Geography might be a weakness of the Corbyn campaign, but it isn’t the worst. What appears to be is how a wide variety of sloppy and false critiques of the Israeli government have led to a glib disregard for the welfare of the Jewish people.

When the left is faced with the charge of antisemitism, its instinct is self-defence: to blame an hysterical media campaign by the right to sabotage anything that threatens it. But we need the integrity to realise that it’s far more than that. It was nice to see Owen Jones try:

There are those who imply that Jewish people are somehow synonymous with the Israeli government (a slur echoed by some uncritical cheerleaders of Israeli state policy). And some use terms like “Jewish lobby”, a classic antisemitic trope suggesting there is an organised Jewish cabal exercising behind-the-scenes influence worldwide. And so on.

But left-wing antisemitism is both broader and subtler than this – mostly because those who espouse it genuinely do not recognise their politics to be racist. However unintentional, the campaign against Israel typically operates on a logic that uniquely discriminates against the Jewish quest for self-determination, whose ‘Zionism’ is routinely vulgarised to the extent that it becomes synonymous only with the most regressive forces of ultra-Orthodox, sectarian expansionism.

This will not promote social justice. There are better ways of critiquing Israel.

Zionism as Jewish Nationalism

When Richard Dawkins is condemned for supposedly racist remarks against Muslims, he argues – rightly – that we should be free to interrogate religious texts free of any suffocating charges of racism. But the retort is that, if one works on the assumption that Islam exists as a single, essentialised body of codes to be critiqued, for example in some non-existent ‘book of sharia’, then the only logical corollary is that comparable generalisations can be made of all Muslims. Unfortunately, moreover, in much of the New Atheist mindset criticism of religion begins with its fanatics, where it is said to be most ‘real’. Through Boko Haram and Islamic State, clerical fascism becomes the body of Islam, and so the soul of Muslims. The result, whatever one’s intentions, amounts to the intellectual legitimacy of racism and bigotry.

While this doesn’t persuade me, for most of the left the concern is very well understood. But the ideology of ‘Zionism’ is rarely treated with comparable subtlety, shall we say. The ease with which poorly-defined critiques of the ‘Zio threat’ can legitimise the far right does not stop the left from borrowing from its vocabulary. Instead, and with beautiful Dawkins-esque logic, the risks of racism are reflexively dismissed as an effort to silence criticism of Israel:

Anyone is welcome to reduce their definition of ‘Zionism’ to – basically – illegal settlements and bombs. But it will amount to a libelous parody, and one for which there is no excuse.

At its most reductive, the spirit of Zionism is the closest that Jews have ever had to a national identity. Late nineteenth-century Europe was poisoned by antisemitic mass politics, recently secularised and made more vicious than ever by the pseudoscience of racial Darwinism. With Jews everywhere under siege, Theodor Herzl formulated a project to rouse his nation from its slumbering diaspora, and elected to do so by way of the ancestral home of Israel. In Herzl’s vision, moreover, Jews and Arabs would live alongside one another, each thriving under universal citizenship and total cultural independence. It was a dream, even if, unfortunately, it gravitated towards utopianism: to enfranchise Jews from the shackles of political racism.

But for Jewish revolutionaries, Zionism was a distraction from the class politics in which Jews had long made their greatest contributions to humanity. Rosa Luxemburg famously claimed that she had no place in her heart for the ‘ghetto’; a new state in Israel might liberate Jews briefly from the worst of European racial suppression, but it would inevitably find itself underpinned by the same social class system against which she battled from her prison cell in Breslau. With retrospect, her idealism carried with it stakes of impossibly high proportions. Her murder by the Weimar government in the early days of 1919 – after a failed revolution – played a significant role in destabilising the German left, the only force that might have had the momentum to stop the Nazis from seizing power.

Still, history has proven Luxemburg’s criticisms of Zionism to have been ominously prescient. Constantly obsessing over security, inequality has spread like a virus through an Israeli state founded upon the principles of collectivism; and with the typical income of an Israeli Arab family half that of the average Jewish family, it is not a coincidence that the will for peace has softened with the quiet humbling of the labour movement. A toxic mixture of racism and paranoia has elevated Israel’s populist right; in Benjamin Netanyahu’s current government sit members of the Shas movement – which opposes any freeze on settlement activity – and a justice minister from Jewish Home, which wants to annex the West Bank. It makes for a disturbing echo of the German Empire of the 1890s, when – as Geoff Eley has written – its leaders ran on fanciful adventures across Africa and Eastern Europe, its people persuaded that security and prosperity came not in social reform but in exploiting the industrial and technological superiority it held over other peoples. The tragic fate of Zionism is that, in its quest for national defence, a powerful current has mutated into the very predatory and chauvinistic forces of the Europe from which it was invented to escape.

But this doesn’t make sectarianism ‘true Zionism’ or ‘central to Zionism’ anymore than we would twin Islamic State with Tower Hamlets. Many Israelis, particularly on the left, simply refuse to abandon their national heritage to the forces currently so visibly triumphant in Jerusalem. Through the World Labor Zionist Movement and the World Union of Meretz, socialists across the world agitate for a Palestinian state and do so on behalf of the two largest left-wing parties in the Knesset. Consistent in calling for the cooperation of Arab and Jewish workers, it can hardly be condemned for refusing to pacify the proto-fascistic, Jew-hating forces ruling Gaza; in 2000, Israeli Labor leader Ehud Barak brought Palestine to within a whisker of peace – had self-appointed Arab spokesman Yasser Arafat been willing to accept it. This is to say nothing of the many academics and journalists scattered across the world campaigning for the liberal Zionism of ethnic and political peace. We have to fight alongside these people, not boycott them.

It takes, moreover, scant regard for human dignity to claim that either the emotional or practical needs for Zionism have passed away. Right-wing antisemitism was steadily rising over the two decades to 2014, since when it has suddenly spiked; 7,000 Jews fled France for Israel last year, and in 2015, with the attack on the kosher supermarket following the attack on Charlie Hebdo, the figure is likely to be more than double that. These are not wealthy conspiracists in league with American imperialism but victims of an antisemitism for which the left, their traditional allies, has shown disgracefully little concern. For these Jews, ‘Zionism’ is not some fanciful expansionism; it comes from a brewing vulnerability that only the Israeli state has even offered to secure.

The fact that Zionism has mutated is an argument against regressive nationalist politics – it is not specific either to Zionism or to the Jewish aspiration for self-determination that it embodies. It is a positive step that some Jews, mostly in Europe and mostly secure, feel safe without a Jewish nation to protect them – but that does not give them the right to make pronouncements about Israel’s legitimacy on behalf of those who do not. Like the religious politics Dawkins is keen to satirise, Zionism has within it the potential to emancipate as well as suppress; and, like religion, the best – and, I would suggest, only – way of critiquing it begins with the recognition that there are as many forms of Zionism as there are reasons for the Jewish nation’s existence, as well as its expansion.

Zionism and Colonialism

A typical feature of mainstream ‘anti-Zionism’ comes from Garry Leech of Stop the War Coalition, who has tasked himself with explaining why arguing for the dismantling of the Israeli state is ‘not anti-semitic’. After conceding that the earliest Jewish settlers in Palestine were indeed fleeing a terrible and ubiquitous menace, he writes:

By all rights, Palestine, like its neighbors, should have become an independent nation following World War Two, but the Western-backed Zionist project prevented this from happening. In accordance with the Balfour Declaration, Britain and the United States sought to ensure the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. Under British rule, the Jewish population in Palestine had increased from 11 percent in 1922 to 32 percent in 1948, with many having arrived following the end of the war… Jewish groups supported the partition plan but Palestinians and the surrounding Arab states opposed it on the grounds that it violated the principles of national self-determination in the UN charter under which Palestinians should have the right to decide their own destiny. The plan was not implemented. Nevertheless, the Jewish population in Palestine unilaterally announced the creation of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948.

For Leech, the self-determination of the Palestinian Arabs requires that Palestinian Jews be denied theirs: there cannot be two states, thriving side-by-side, but a single entity in which the Jewish demography is put firmly into the political minority where it belongs. But this is a justified position because Zionism has always been, he asserts, in essence a brutal form of settler-colonialism sponsored by the West to control the Orient. It cannot exist in any other way; the relationship of Zionism to any Jewish national identity is immaterial.

To make this argument, history has to be rewritten. The British government’s white paper of 1939, limiting Jewish immigration after a revolt by the region’s Arab population, receives no mention; nor does the bitter resentment with which the British Labour government of the 1940s oversaw partition. Most of the Empire’s ruling class in the early 20th century was deeply antisemitic – Winston Churchill, forever distrustful, penned his thoughts on Jewish Bolshevism in his introduction to the racist forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. But ‘anti-Zionists’ invent the history of Israel in other ways; I have seen fabricated ‘quotes’ from Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism who advocated peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Jews, to make him out to be some land-obsessed deviant out to drive Arabs from the Levant. Then there are the infamous maps that purport to show some kind of inevitable and unstoppable colonial ‘advance’:

Hint on the first map, just to get you started: ‘Palestinian’ was purely a geographical definition. It referred to both Arabs and Jews, and as a Mandate also included the East section of the River Jordan which was both almost entirely Arab, and included the majority of the land. The Jews lived in the white section, but a lot of the green section was uninhabitable desert and the entire map was owned by the British imperial government. The purpose of this map is, in other words, to disguise the racist blurring of ethnicity and politics under the guise of ‘anti-Zionism’.

It strikes me that it might be possible to question the founding of the Israeli state from a position not of antisemitism, but of one simply hostile to the free movements of peoples; it might, for example, be possible to raise legitimate criticism of the settling of New England. Though just as it would be more than a little weird to hear the contemporary left inveigh so virulently against the long-dead Pilgrims, the implication of persistently restating the uncertain grounds of the founding of the Jewish state becomes that it should no longer exist. The Jews must be refused an attempt to establish a state as they please.

If there is any way that one could argue for the dismantling of Israel without fabricating the history of Jewish self-determination, I would be very interested to hear it.

Quids in for Corbyn

In the space of a few weeks, the Corbyn campaign has mobilised tens of thousands of activists, many of whose politics has never amounted to more than some vague hatred of an establishment they never expected to influence. These are people who have never needed to scrutinise their own prejudices; when they were marginalised, they could feel content to dismiss all criticisms – even from the left – as an ignoble plot to defame the quest for social justice. This is how the Palestine solidarity campaign has convinced itself that antisemitism is basically a fabrication by mainstream politicians to shut down criticism of Israel, and so also why reactions to Corbyn’s associations with antisemites has meandered so arbitrarily between denying and justifying them.

At a time of rising antisemitism, silence amounts to legitimation. Corbyn is right to speak against an academic boycott but he has to do more: at the outset, anti-semites have to be expelled from the party and he has to shun all associations with Hamas – unless he makes the bizarre decision to invite the Israeli far right to the negotiating table too. Alliances with Jewish – and Zionist – internationalists have to be forged. It is not enough to make abstract condemnations while thousands of his supporters are allowed to isolate Jews from mainstream debate.

This does not need to threaten the left’s revival. But, in all likelihood, Corbyn is about to launch his bid for government – and if we don’t acknowledge our own prejudices, the right will do so on our behalf.

How Yvette Cooper Betrays Women

The best politicians are experts in disguise, it’s often said; but the trouble with Ed Miliband was that, after five years, nobody had the faintest clue what he was hiding under that bizarre and flustered marbling of austerity and babble against rich foreigners. Someone should have advised ‘mother’ Cooper against doing the same.

On Thursday, the short-time hopeful of the Labour leadership contest asked a little too climatically:

“So tell me what you think is more radical… switching control of some power stations from a group of white middle-aged men in an energy company to a group of white middle-aged men in Whitehall, as Jeremy wants? Or extending SureStart, giving mothers the power and confidence to transform their own lives and transform their children’s lives for years to come?”

Cooper’s entire politics is predicated upon austerity policies disproportionately detrimental to the well-being of British women; wherever her convictions lie, such flippant criticisms of Jeremy Corbyn’s calls for public ownership have become entirely indistinguishable from that cynical noise whose goal is to belittle anyone with the naivety to bother defending their principles.

Those hardest hit by austerity have been – and will continue to be – women. Making up the largest part of the public sector workforce, cuts have pushed more women out of work than in over a quarter of a century – which, of course, is to say nothing of the years of pay cuts and freezes endured by those spared the axe. The Tory mission is only made more obscene by the scale remaining, with George Osborne – a graduate of history like myself, though somehow even more economically illiterate – last month ordering each and every one of his departmental ministries to prepare a further round of 40 percent spending cuts.

Photo: 2015 Getty Images

If she had granted her platitudes the privilege of honesty, Cooper should have been uniquely aggrieved. It was she who, as shadow home secretary, commissioned the research into the budget concluding that it would hit women twice as hard as men. ‘Appalling,’ was how she denounced Tory attacks on child tax credits. Osborne really did have a ‘women problem’.

But then, a fortnight later, Cooper abstained on the welfare bill. She rallied behind Labour’s amendment – as though a class assault against social welfare provision were simply a nuance away from justice – that ‘only’ a cap on welfare with ‘limitations’ on mortgage support should be put into law. Perhaps she expected praise for championing an abstract opposition to lifting child poverty targets; the ‘amendment’ didn’t even mention the tax credits whose maintenance puts food on the table for thousands of families across the country.

Why? Yvette Cooper does not strike me as either particularly Machiavellian or forgetful; she is, however, an echo of the tedious and aloof paternalism that doomed Miliband, and which came troublingly near to consigning his party into the electoral wilderness. The problem is that anyone committed to the fundamentals of austerity – slashing public services, arbitrarily at best and cynically at worst – will have to, at some point, subordinate to it the welfare of those for whom they claim so passionately to stand. All the ‘motherhood’ rhetoric in the world couldn’t bring a single child out of poverty: if this is Cooper’s ‘credible fiscal policy’ then I don’t want it, and neither will anyone else.

For any gender or none, better a white man committed to rejuvenating social democracy than a white woman ambivalent about its survival.

Destroying Hamas

If the maximalists and ultra-nationalist Israeli occupiers of Palestine are the enemy, then so too is Hamas. There will never be peace until religious fanaticism is purged from the lands between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River; and it has to be fought, unconditionally, now. Focusing all of our political energies on forcing the IDF into a unilateral retreat will damn Gaza into becoming the sovereign playground of thugs and theocrats. No one who wants peace, no one motivated by any platitude for social justice, can allow that to happen.

Politicians lie. David Cameron does it, regularly; should his claim that NHS waiting times have halved since 2010 be taken as a sacred pledge to Marx and to medical socialism? No? Would it even if it had been true? Political parties have spent decades courting the trust of their electorate only to collapse under their own vapidity.

So why, when its leader Khaled Mashal wistfully imagined that he’d one day ‘possibly give a long-term truce with Israel’, did Hamas suddenly become the ardent opponent of war in the Levant? As ever in his struggle to exchange myth for myth, Mehdi Hasan captures – indeed embodies – that dollhouse marriage of gullibility and intellectual dishonesty perfectly:

2) Israel wants a ceasefire but Hamas doesn’t

Al Jazeera: “Meshaal said Hamas wants the ‘aggression to stop tomorrow, today, or even this minute. But [Israel must] lift the blockade with guarantees and not as a promise for future negotiations’. He added ‘we will not shut the door in the face of any humanitarian ceasefire backed by a real aid programme’.” Jerusalem Post: “One day after an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire accepted by Israel, but rejected by Hamas, fell through, the terrorist organization proposed a 10-year end to hostilities in return for its conditions being met by Israel, Channel 2 reported Wednesday.. Hamas’s conditions were the release of re-arrested Palestinian prisoners who were let go in the Schalit deal, the opening of Gaza-Israel border crossings in order to allow citizens and goods to pass through, and international supervision of the Gazan seaport in place of the current Israeli blockade.” BBC: “Israel’s security cabinet has rejected a week-long Gaza ceasefire proposal put forward by US Secretary of State John Kerry ‘as it stands’.”

Genocide, in other words, is simply the awkward and slightly embarrassing mistress of a noble peacenik. Meshaal has forgotten why he wanted all the Jews dead, and so should we.

Well now. As one of diplomacy’s little rules, if an organisation rises to prominence citing the apocalyptic fantasies of a seventh-century epileptic charging that ‘Muslims fight Jews and kill them’ because ‘Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it’, which, instead of scuppering, it reinforces by firing hundreds rockets at Israeli civilians during peacetime while disseminating—

—ahem, somewhat questionable television for nurslings, then its cries for peace, bread and land should probably be interrogated a little more intelligently.

To this, of course, it is glibly argued that Hamas can be put to one side. They are a red herring in a war in which power lies almost exclusively in Bibi’s court. ‘As always, mighty Israel claims to be the victim of Palestinian aggression,’ began Avi Shlaim in 2009,

but the sheer asymmetry of power between the two sides leaves little room for doubt as to who is the real victim. This is indeed a conflict between David and Goliath but the Biblical image has been inverted – a small and defenceless Palestinian David faces a heavily armed, merciless and overbearing Israeli Goliath. The resort to brute military force is accompanied, as always, by the shrill rhetoric of victimhood and a farrago of self-pity overlaid with self-righteousness. In Hebrew this is known as the syndrome of bokhim ve-yorim, “crying and shooting”.

To be sure, Hamas is not an entirely innocent party in this conflict. Denied the fruit of its electoral victory and confronted with an unscrupulous adversary, it has resorted to the weapon of the weak – terror. Militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad kept launching Qassam rocket attacks against Israeli settlements near the border with Gaza until Egypt brokered a six-month ceasefire last June. The damage caused by these primitive rockets is minimal but the psychological impact is immense, prompting the public to demand protection from its government. Under the circumstances, Israel had the right to act in self-defence but its response to the pinpricks of rocket attacks was totally disproportionate. The figures speak for themselves. In the three years after the withdrawal from Gaza, 11 Israelis were killed by rocket fire. On the other hand, in 2005-7 alone, the IDF killed 1,290 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children.

Leaving aside the implicit – and rather obscene – requirement that Hamas kill a few more Israelis to prove themselves, here it is. Iron Dome can smash all their rockets in a breath. Whatever the ‘not entirely innocent’ organisation might mean, or want, or do, is entirely ancillary to the acquisition of Palestinian self-determination; if we only bite our lips and share in their essential hatred of the Israeli occupation, and in the meanwhile let them be, then freedom will come to the territories and Hamas wither and die.

I’ll admit this much: puritans and vainglory won’t save the world. Socialism in Palestine is a fantasy, and not all bargains with those who would make better enemies have to end in Faustian triumphs for the Devil. The fiscally incompetent Louis XVI did not bring despotism to the American Revolution; instead, irony doomed him to a nationalist revolution that first took his head and then beat back the rest of Europe under the banners of fraternity. And what of the Irish – did the German Empire’s support for the Easter Rising undo their fight withthe British? Who could seriously denounce the Finns had they managed to fend off the Soviet empire with Nazi arms? Terrible regimes may lift a people off the ground – but it is only the people who will choose their destination.

The difference here isn’t simply that Hamas rule Gaza. It is that they exist to deny its freedom. True, it was once elected, as though that in itself vindicates any crime; but then it seized power in a violent coup, claimed direct control of all state services (except, ironically, banking), barred anyone not appointed in the name of a mosque backing Hamas from many professions, amongst them teachers, smashed the labour movement and silenced the opposition. This is how it always happens: flicking through Oswald Mosley’s autobiography the other day, I came across a passage – just before he promises to improve upon the legacy of Caesarism and Bonapartism – in which he states ‘writers cannot both be fascists and reactionaries’ because ‘fascism… can be described as revolutionary but not reactionary’. No doubt he believed that imagined golden ages could be restored to their full health, that it is no paradox to look for liberation in the past against the shackles from modernity; all the same, he would never have recognised the delusion until after many thousands or millions had been bloodied and murdered in its name, and probably not even then.

I typically have a great deal of respect for Shlaim, who is wonderfully moral when denouncing an occupation that has condemned two parties to martial servitude since 1967. But he has thoroughly miscalculated one crucial fact. The first people on whom Hamas declared war was their electorate: it is Gaza, and not Israel, whose peace they will deny, and they will remain even if they are granted a state to call their own. And by the time their intentions are understood it would be too late.

This is why it so terribly unsettling – though I won’t say ‘tragic’ just yet – that Western clemency towards Hamas climaxes just as its domestic support hits a nadir. A month after polling is released revealing 88 percent denouncing Hamas for the Palestinian Authority, during which interim period Fatah and Egypt demand the Islamists leave, their alliances with Assad and Iran battered over (though admittedly surviving despite) Syria, John Kerry calls for a ceasefire in which the party who have spent their eight years of unilateral power pelting home-cooked rockets at Israeli citizens (of which almost one hundred fell on the day before Operation Protective Edge even began) is presented as Gaza’s only legitimate representative on the international state. It simultaneously proposed that Hamas receive a chunk of some $50 billion humanitarian aid to the Territories, aid which could be spent very fruitfully on the tunnels Israel has spent weeks trying to destroy. A deal needs to be made between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, immediately, and all support given to whatever remains of the secular national movement in Gaza.

The fact that those remains are insufferably dilute does not make despair inevitable. For one, there is probably at least a patter of reality to the claim that Yasser Arafat’s corruption led some Gazans into Hamas’ embrace; granting the PLO decades of international and domestic consensus as the singular voice of the Palestinian Arabs, allowing an estimated $400 million to fall into its private pockets, will do that. The Camp David discussions in 2000, showing general antipathy towards Palestinian claims in Jerusalem, may have deserved to fail – but Ehud Barak’s broader proposal, which he then updated with significant concessions a few months later, showed insight into the sincerity of the Israeli left and could well have bought the Arabs a state of their own. If an alternative secular movement can be built in Fatah to carry Palestinian nationhood, then rivalry (and by implication, shows of unity) would actually mean something in the fight against corruption and for self-determination.

In the West Bank, Fatah have shown that they do at least offer a democratic space from which a Palestinian state could evolve. Fatah are not fine lefties, but so are they far from authoritarian conspirators; their years of American training and aid comes from a shared (and very legitimate) fear of Islamist radicals. If they were simply a front for the US, they would have made peace by now. Sure, they have a front trade union federation in the GPWU – but so is there at least one autonomous leftist trade union federation, the PGFTU, who’ve managed to organise plenty of strikes against the PA. You think we need ‘grubby allies’ – a trade-off, expediency for peace? Take Fatah. History has admitted far worse foundations in the wars for peace, and for bids into the equality of nations.

Give Gaza what they deserve, and what every moralist claims to want for them: the dignity and autonomy to account for their own aspirations for themselves and for Israel. That means casting away the frivolous caricature of every Palestinian as a Hamas operative or willing fellow-traveler, an idea thoroughly embedded in the racism according to which populist leftists think the organisation’s questionable exploits irrelevant at best, and justifiable at worst. The right-wing press have made the same claim since the last intifada and they, for all their bitter protestations, cannot wait for Hamas to grab a track of land next to the Meditarranean and pronounce it a Caliphate. Nothing would give them greater pleasure than for all their racism to be countersigned by the left getting what they want and Israel rolling back into the Strip.

All religious nutjobs share a common cause, differing only in Gods and degree: Jewish Home, Shas – they want Eretz Israel cleansed of Arabs, and Hamas want all the Jews dead. It is time, right this moment, to side with all working people who oppose them. Only then will there be peace.

Patronising UKIP

A message to all comrades and frightened hacks: UKIP are still out there!

A couple of months back, when Farage’s existence was just enough for everyone to wish the European Union had never been created, the liberal-left entered one of its seasonal fits of outrage and, inevitably undercharged (for whatever reason), then rumbled into silence and hush like a spot of embarrassed thunder.

Such as we have come to expect. But that’s not what matters. What does is that fact that had they continued to press against UKIP in the same manner as these commentators had been, they would have got nowhere. Lo! the snobbery that the post-Thatcherite identity-politics of the left now has for the white working class: see Laurie Penny’s useless dismissal of UKIP’s voters ‘who always want someone to blame’ (presumably not her choice of title, but apt enough):

Ukip understands that when people have given up on change, when people have given up hope, they will still get out of bed for someone to blame. A significant portion of its votes come not from the Lib Dems or the Tories, but from previous non-voters. The entire comment spectrum on left and right seems to treat the people who plan to vote for Ukip and similar meatheaded, vicious right-wing parties like cattle who must be herded towards right-thinking. They hope that simply pointing out the racial prejudice of the new party’s core platform, as with the latest, last-ditch, zero-hour cross party campaign to brand Ukip as “Euracist”, will cause the cattle to come to their senses.

… to be compared with, however well-intentioned, her obsession that we all be very, very aware of every detail about ourselves before we argue anything:

Privilege is not the same as power. Nor is it a game whereby only the least privileged people will henceforth be allowed an opinion – the last time I checked, the political conversation was still dominated by rich white men and their wives. These are the people who go into spasms of outrage at the very notion that a black person, or a woman, or a working-class person might have as much right to an opinion as they do on matters that affect them. I’d like to reassure these people that taking away their monopoly on opinions is the very opposite of censorship, and furthermore that their whining is distasteful. Privilege is not a zero-sum game. Most of us are privileged in some ways, and less privileged in others. The inevitable straw woman raised by those who like to get lip-juttingly cross about the whole idea that they might have “privilege” is that of the wealthy black, wheelchair-bound lesbian set against the straight, working-class white man in a contest over who is “more privileged”. The simple answer, of course, is that both have different sorts of privilege, and one doesn’t cancel out the other, because society is not, in fact, a game of top trumps.

The theme here is a remorseless sell-out of the white working class struggle for linguistic trump-playing. It as though when Thatcher smashed the labour movement, the ‘progressives’ could but tragically follow suit: the British working movement transitioned into the abstract and every group with a claim to oppression became a source of faux-leftist narcissism as though they alone were sufficient to revolutionise British society.

The result is that nowadays, either the UKIPer vote spells ‘public rage’ (whatever the hell that is, Penny) or a misguided expression of the romantic tradition as forever patronised by Owen Jones. There is only one way in which we could say that they brush the main point, and it is this: when a British labourer votes for UKIP, he is engaging in an act of unfettered self- degradation.

Allow me to explain. Demographically speaking – and here I cite YouGov – I am quite convinced that the party’s chief constituency is the Thatcherite electorate of the 1980s.

Consider this narrative. In 1979, the labour movement was powerful; a few years before it had sparked the most intense wave of strike action since the general strike of 1926, brought down Heath, and then even forced the trade union bureaucracy to abandon their Social Contract with Wilson and Callaghan. But although the rank-and-file had attained a level of class consciousness alien to the living memory of most, to many other workers whose livelihoods did not appear under immediate threat from the government, mass strike action – particularly from the Winter of Discontent – seemed to mean only the coal from their fires and the food from their children’s mouths. And thus they hailed in Thatcher whose alliance with scabs and selective industrial ambushes promised a revolutionary revival to British decline; the individual would never again lie trapped under the awfully selfish constructions of the socialist.

Except it was a lie. Within a few years, financial capital abounded like never before, but it did so in the clouds – unattainable to most while a limitless reserve for the few. Inequality grew, which has always been a slightly sterile way of making Orwell’s point that the promise of economic liberty to the many is predicated upon little more than the right to be exploited for profit; and the shrinking labour movement could now only watch, its protests suffocated as if the bleating of old sheep.

Those who voted for Thatcher are old, now, and even at the time I would have struggled to denounce those whose fears for their family’s livelihoods incited them to find new allies in the right when the left, for all the commonality of interests they undeniably shared, could appear so ferociously unsympathetic. Except they have now had so long to look around – so long to understand the reality of the lies to which they subscribed. We have reached a stage where for so long as those who were subsumed by the Iron Lady continue to press the delusions they were sold about the evils of class solidarity – and distressingly pass them on to their children, as votes for Labour once did – they bastardise a single mistake into an insult whose timelessness ought to shame them everywhere.

And it is this which, thus far, is precisely what has been allowed to happen. Bitterness in the mouth is chewed of its flavour before being digested into nostalgia. If working people do not blame the false clichés of Thatcherism for their vulnerability, which as YouGov’s research showed is characterised by few qualifications and financial insecurity (and no doubt a touch of senility), then, quite obviously, they will not look for support in the labour movement. Instead the gulf between now becomes ‘foreign’, is painted by rainbow flags and coloured skins, incomprehensible languages on trains, the death of our masculine empire and bureaucracies chanting laws from the continent. The pig’s makeup gets the blame.

Income of UKIP Voters

From The Daily Mail

How else can it be that migrants themselves, uninterested in defending ‘real Britain’ and unconscious of the nationalist ideas whose triumphalism so promiscuously chained support for the miner’s strike following the Falklands War, prove so keen, on the rare occasions when they do make a stand, to fight for their rights? The recent Tres Cosas campaign of ancillaries at the University of London was one such example; realising that their vulnerability is not resolved with idleness, they have fought together for – and thus far won – sick pay, holidays, and pensions while today’s sickly labour movement was calling the police on them with the warning that they were ‘lucky to have jobs’ (Cohen makes some good points on this). When they see these victories it is no wonder that UKIP’s wealthy find such pleasure in watching the majority of Britain’s white working class trapped in a state of preemptive self-capitulation to their employers.

And this is how we understand UKIP’s rise, as well as how it might be undone – which will not be through patronising fate games in which working people are reduced to the stupid and inevitable hero-worshiping of Nigel Farage. Firstly, leftist moral meanderings need to part with certain condescending truth claims: blame his wit, blame bad schools, blame the distortions of the media whose audience have nothing of the mental capability to call them out. The result is a weird and slightly anarchic mix of denunciations of racism unduly bolstered by contempt for the very people with whom we claim to be siding. When, in other words, leftists find themselves sharing that patronising neoliberal aloofness, their problem is transformed from a lazy disconnect into an unsettling question of their intellectual integrity.

You see, it has become almost frivolous to spend time moralising with Nigel Farage’s various hypocrisies – his wealth, his phoney aids, his German secretary for a wife. Let him have his air-time. Let UKIP shout. It takes a great deal more than a charming smile pinned onto the television sets of every home in the nation to convince millions of people to vote for a party whose lies are so blatant, and whose credentials so fraudulent. There is only one way to kill UKIP: working people need to recognise that championing the damnations of a wealthy elite over the very immigrants with whom they have far more in common is not only idiotic, but an attack on the only prospects that they and their children might ever have for the level of civil equality to which they must truly be entitled.

Every time the Labour Party quizzes its links with the unions, and every time it begs forgiveness for its immigration policy when it was in office, it is as if it were looking to appease an insatiable vampire with all the blood its body can spare. In appearing to admit that the foreignness of the EU is responsible for destitution while knowing that it is not, Labour feeds a delusion whose rewards it would – admirably – never dare to reap. Across Europe, the far right is gaining ground; the Front National leads in France and the right-wing AfD is emerging from its cradle in Germany, as other parties of nationalist populism are elsewhere. Labour needs to make clear that the real solution to Britain’s decline is, like most of Europe, in waging war on the inequalities that ravage its people’s aspirations and their living standards, that making common cause with migrants can transform this nation just as it can those from which they come. How little dignity do UKIP’s voters allow themselves, swallowing such egregious bile from a party that holds contempt for their true interests?

The only optimism is this. Young people in this country do not, as their parents do, look to the 1970s to excuse the destitution of the labour movement. It survives by historical myth; and myths, especially when they lack the heroism of legend, are far easier to eradicate than the twisted memories upon which UKIP continues to thrive.

Why no young person should ever vote for the Liberal Democrats

To vote for the Liberal Democrats is to throw away all of the sins that youth excuses: reckless ambition, its dreams that shame the real world and the imagination to realise them. They are phoneys, ideologically and politically. Not only have they never been an alternative to establishment politics but they represent its ideal, its bourgeois narcissism that reveres above all and allegiance to a quietly benevolent state. Anyone who would dare to cry ‘betrayal’ over Clegg’s alliance with the Conservative’s systematic assault on those who have already long suffered from inequality poor clearly never bothered to interrogate the principles that bind his party together.

Let me put it like this. The Liberal Democrats are the only political party about whom it is worth speaking in existential terms. Quite simply, what on earth is their purpose in the world?

They thrive, as we all know, upon the ‘alienated’ electorate – I am endlessly lectured about the special place they occupy in our politics. The Tories are (obviously) odious, and Labour treacherous. This step really doesn’t need much interrogation. What does is the next, which typically proceeds: ‘I am so disgusted by the complicity of the established politicians that I am going to vote for the most ideologically vacuous and administratively impotent party that this nation has ever produced.’

Is this at all accurate? The Windsor branch of the Liberal Democrats summarises their party’s constitution thusly:

  • We champion the freedom, dignity and wellbeing of individuals.
  • We aim to disperse power, foster diversity and nurture creativity.
  • We support each citizen contributing to their community and to decisions which affect them.
  • We respect the basic rights of all people, and hope to see all cultures develop freely in peace.
  • We accept that we are all responsible for the future of our planet and of all life.
  • We reject prejudice and discrimination, and oppose entrenched privilege and inequality.

There is nothing at all controversial about the above values. They all, differing only in degree, underlie the assumptions of Britain’s entire political establishment and its main parties: the state must value the rights of its citizens, all of whom must seek fulfilment as individuals, and it must wrestle with an inequality without which it cannot imagine ruling. These ideals crown an age governed by the neoliberal bogeyman, when 70% of Britain fancies itself middle-class despite being more labour-dependent than ever, when its society only looks up rather than around, when abstract ideals above cloud the fires of collective action from below. And who better to champion them than the only major political party whose electoral record has long left their stated values so utterly unblemished by office?

Political centrism is described in two principal ways. On the one hand, it sculpts the humanism of the left with the respect for stability of the right – but these are evocative terms. Claims of ‘pragmatism’ win out – realism. With their acute sense of pride, these proponents pour snobbery over those who try to work out courses to navigate over rough political terrains and stupidly state that great dilemmas can be resolved with delicate shifts. The result? Care and empathy without the strength of the convictions demanded by political ideology are precisely how the Lib Dems phrase their policies. So let’s consider a few of them.

What The Hell Have The Lib Dems Done?’ suggests, one suspects accidentally, that the answer is ‘not very much.’ Amongst Clegg’s achievements are listed:

 End the routine detention of children for immigration purposes

Clegg never promised to end child detention. By June 2012 – two years after child detention was supposed to have ended – there were still 222 children locked up.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a series of events hosted in protest against Campsfield House, the detention centre just outside Oxford. In these places, asylum seekers must wait deportation, often in isolation and never with a specified duration. So irrational and ridiculous is the xenophobia built into the system that even though the number of asylum detainees is rising – to about 29,000 by 2012 – the number of deportations are in fact going down. Not because they are being allowed back into their communities, understand. Instead of allowing asylum seekers – the ‘bad migrants’ – to work in their local communities, they are arrested and held to the cost of £500-£1600 per person per week. The Liberal Democrats will never dare to offer their support to these people.

Improved our libel laws, including making it harder for companies to silence their critics and improving freedom for academics to publish their research (England & Wales)

An odd matter to celebrate. Vince took on News International and lost a battle for which his party never really cared to fight. When faced with the power of a corrupt media class, which has long exploited the high cost of libel law suits to write questionable material about the vulnerable, the government chose, instead of opening legal aid for victims of defamation, to cut it. To grab a brief moment of the sensationalist triumph that newspaper barons do so love – to be able to shout ‘courage’ in the face of terrible foes – more than three centuries of press independence was cast to the winds for a new royal charter system under the hands of a small group of derelict and unelected Privy Councillors. A little ironic, to put it kindly, for a party so thrilled by the prospect of reforming the political system.

And then there’s the excellently-named Gagging Law, which it isn’t even worth the effort to disguise. By 2015 limits will be placed on the finances ‘for election purposes’ of such deeply sinister organisations as trade unions, charities, and any other voluntary groups whose moral reputation should threaten the current governing parties. Not even Lib Dem MPs like Andrew George – who claimed to have been opposed to bill – would move beyond an abstention. And herein lies the utopianism of a political party vocally committed to ‘the right to speak, write, worship, associate and vote freely’ but with nothing to say on the social issues that threaten it.

Announced tougher action on homophobic bullying in schools and given teachers stronger powers and guidance to tackle cyber-bullying (England)

Meanwhile the Gove regime builds child training grounds for religious proselytisers, praises Catholic schools, hikes up teachers’ workload and suppresses their wages. And gay marriage is allowed to be born in the triumph of the conservative project.

Increased funding for dementia research by 150%, reaching £66.3 million by 2014-15 (England & Wales)

I have no doubt that a truly admirable stand was required to overcome Cameron’s renowned hostility to dementia sufferers.

 Ensured the Government maintained the commitment to end child poverty by 2020

If the Lib Dems are happy to claim the ‘ensuring’ role then I should like to change it to ‘enabling’ and add the following trivial qualifier: that the number of children in poverty, despite having fallen dramatically in the decade to 2010, is set to rise by at least half a million by 2015/6. By 2020, the figure will be 4.7 million (or more than a quarter of all children).

Will this, however, be at all negated by their crowning achievement?

Delivered on the key Lib Dem pledge of a £2.5bn Pupil Premium to bring extra funding to disadvantaged students. Its rate has now been increased further and is £1,300 per eligible pupil in primary schools and £935 per eligible pupil in secondary schools in 2014-15 (England)

Of course not. This is merely another instance of the disguised contempt that the Westminster-educated hold for the poor whose excuses for underachievement, it seems, are running thin. Forget the poverty into which the worst schools are entrenched, that pupils who receive Free School Meals are five times more likely to be suspended or excluded than others; forget the ghettoization of universities according to class and ethnic group. Throwing money at under-performing schools in order to fabricate social mobility is like dropping a KFC bucket in a field and calling it free range. Such is how the Lib Dems appeal to the soft spot of the guilt on the heart of the middle-class moralist.

This is not about party politics. Everyone knows the old story of the Conservatives, who every generation have to parody their traditions in order to survive the electorate of the next, and Labour, who no longer have any real concept of either what the working class wants or needs.

All the same, politics is not some theatre designed to entertain narcissistic anarchists. I will campaign for the Labour Party at the next general election for the simple reason that millions of people’s welfares depend enough upon its outcome, however meagerly. The problem with Ed Miliband, as many Lib Dem voters don’t at all care to notice, is that he is developing precisely the same model of politics as Clegg. If the union link is ripped, they will become so immeasurably distinct that it would hardly matter. If the only prospect of a parliamentary voice for the movement of the working class is suffocated, then the goodwill of Labour’s MPs will have no choice but to retreat to the bland ideals of politicians untroubled by the power of grassroots discontent. Pre-empting this with a vote for the Liberal Democrats is senseless.

This is a deeply worrying matter. Any party which justifies its alliance with the Conservatives according to the ‘national interest’ admits the true focus of its eyes: the Britain of the banks, not the Britain of the working people. The nineteenth-century Benjamin Disraeli’s oft-quoted (albeit with invariable ineptitude) remark about ‘the divide of the Two Nations’, one working class and the other a propertied elite, was grafted to the dream of an all-British alliance; it would not trouble him to abandon the social question as the nationalistic matter of Empire promptly offered his days in office a far simpler manner of uniting his country. It had always been to rival this betrayal that the Liberal Party, under Gladstone and later the Welsh schoolmaster’s son Lloyd George, would anchor its moral authority. They never abandoned old Tory ideas of order and the inevitability of social inequality, but they were at the very least conditioned by an attempt to regulate the coming capitalist system to work on behalf of the nation’s broader welfare, considering nationalising the railway and intervening in the market as crises demanded it. It is as if the Liberal Democrats have at last heaved their heritage away from the one noble moment in their history and conceded it to Queen Victoria’s darling Tory jester.

It is not enough, in other words, to protect the Liberal Democrats by invoking the shadowy nightmare of the two alternatives. Their purpose is not to hold one, to masquerade mediocrity as modest constancy; to challenge its rivals with abstract principles which they themselves offer no plan for achieving. In 2010, it would have been preferable for us not to have a government for a few months than one rushing to hasten the exploitation of the poor. And perhaps one day those who enabled it will look back with a sense of guilt and embarrassment.

The Liberal Democrats are not the party of civil progress, nor even a party of the left. They are the party of bourgeois discontent, of the economically-secure crying for calm in a tempest. ‘Fairness’ before equality, ‘Europe’ before solidarity, ‘participation’ before power. And finally the storm has returned for them – and not for the first time. A century ago this year, their forebears launched a war in which the better part of a million of Britain’s most vulnerable were slaughtered in the defence of Empire, and within a few years it looked as if the Liberals had become one of the few casualties of the First World War whose fate was both deserved and a delight. Yet here we are, in 2014, as history revisits itself and casts the cockroaches back into government. Once more, they join forces with a Conservative cattle-raid against the poor man and the foreigner onto whom they beat sin upon sin like the rabbinical goat in the desert.

The government for which they are apparently so loathe has let them back in. But everyone should have known that when the Puritan gains power, ‘new presbyter is but old priest writ large’. If this nation wishes to stand strong against its corrupt and elitist politics, one hopes that it can do a little better than to mark a cross on a ballot paper next to the establishment-chasing sycophancy of a Liberal Democrat.

Buzzwords and “Intersectionality”

Today The Spectator has run a slightly hysterical piece by Julie Burchill on intersectional feminism, “Don’t you dare tell me to check my privilege“:

Intersectionality may well sound like some unfortunate bowel complaint resulting in copious use of a colostomy bag, and indeed it does contain a large amount of ordure… In reality, it seeks to make a manifesto out of the nastiest bits of Mean Girls, wherein non-white feminists especially are encouraged to bypass the obvious task of tackling the patriarchy’s power in favour of bitching about white women’s perceived privilege in terms of hair texture and body shape. Think of all those episodes of Jerry Springer where two women who look like Victoria’s Secret models — one black, one white — bitch-fight over a man who resembles a Jerusalem artichoke, sitting smugly in the middle, and you have the end result of intersectionality made all too foul flesh. It may have been intended as a way for disabled women of colour to address such allegedly white-ableist-feminist-specific issues as equal pay, but it’s ended up as a screaming, squawking, grievance-hawking shambles.

Burchill’s central message shoulder-barges in the right direction but she writes like a born-again reactionary – not the frustrated left-winger which she has cause to be. She makes no attempt, in what could be a fair and satirical critique of identity politics, to argue against her own awful (and poetically numb) degradation of “dicks in chick’s clothing” from last year. If too much of the left today is “a competition in shouting one another down”, then why do the same? The answer, in Burchill’s case, seems clear.

Intersectionality – advanced with the intention to show how various political struggles “intersect” – began as a postmodern parody of Marxism. Today, it is the blunt stake which feminists dream of piercing through the capitalist Dracula. Instead of breaking apart the deterministic social theories that would suffocate Marxism, intersectional feminists simply stitched together a bizarre patchwork alternative.

In the 1970s and 80s, the white masculinised working-class models that had long been the beacon of radical groups seemed to be flickering away. Not all historical causation appeared explicable in the Marxist framework, and campaigners in the cultural liberation struggles found that it was also to blame for the side-lining of some old – and noble – injustices. Black women found themselves alienated by the housekeeper “consciousness-raising” that had erupted out of Oxford; gay people turned to the free hedonist countercultures at Chelsea and Soho, not to diatribes on working-classes struggles. In the years after 1968, its engines rusty, Marxism thus fell gracefully from the mainstream left.

By a depressing twist, these would be the years in which postmodernism would come bursting out of the Seine. For Michel Foucault – but also for those who bought into his frauds – it was fruitless to analyse the world with pretensions to objectivity; the scientist, like the historian, like the political theorist, was saturated in the language in which certain anonymous “power structures” had determined that he would speak. The world, in effect, was a ballooned circus formed from all of his earlier work on psychiatry and madness. Slicing through all of the lies behind society came Foucault’s “truth”.

A civil society in which all institutions are predetermined by discourse is theoretical nonsense – but it can make for some powerfully vacuous polemical feminism. Unlike Marx, Foucault had nothing to say on historical causation. If social change is driven by discourse, then who articulates it? What are their motives? It’s almost foolish to ask. If a theory neglects the authority of material evidence then these questions cannot be answered; Foucault derided crude Marxist determinism only to put forward his own, and to do so without the slightest concern to match the underpinnings of the former that had, however often regretfully, driven war, revolution, and provided millions with a model for equality.

And yet, after the trauma of the 70s, the battered minority campaigns grabbed postmodernism and forced it to marry whatever Marxists would have it: the result was a hideously deformed baby lauded like a new Lion King. So-called “hegemonic power structures” could express virtually any form of oppression – white power, imperial and cultural hierarchies, straight chauvinism and their kingpin, capitalism. Suddenly the troubled complexities of Marxism disappeared. If only people could see that all grievances were the product of a single system then they can unite, and they can tear it down.

Only what are these “power structures”? Where can we find them? Beyond fragmented – if feisty – campaigns against Page 3, or lad culture, or unconditional support for reactionary Tunisians, what is the intersectional solution? It has adopted the postmodernist’s harrying of “objectivity” – it having long been accepted by skeptics that it is impossible to achieve in most instances – and argues that we should not even try to cast off our subjective experiences. If you criticise the intersectional theory or – worse – what might be a deranged argument from someone of an ethnic, religious, or sexual minority, then you cannot believe in social progress. You are parroting whatever hegemonic power structures recruited you at birth; you an impostor; you must “check your privilege”.

And herein lies the tragedy of intersectionality: its answer to very real, very felt material oppression is a retreat into elitist dogmatism in which criticism is the preserve of the apostate, and it strangles the throats of straggling leftists. At a higher level is it iconoclastic, and down below paranoid.

On first principles. I call myself a socialist because, however lazily, I think a) that any economic system that rewards inheritance over the work ethic is unforgivably flawed, and b) that humanity can do better. To say so is to cite an alternative economic model as an answer to material exploitation; it is not then to look to the world and attempt to explain every single one of its problems as an extension of capitalism which, though the turbine of wage slavery, is not a wintry bogeyman. Capitalism is a concrete system whose realities are felt and understood beyond vague notions of “offensiveness”. The answer, therefore, must be to match it in rational criticism.

Black people can murder like white people. Gay people can be misogynists. Islamists can blow up trade centres like the Lord’s Resistance Army can kill African villagers. Is that capitalism? Is it a lie? To the first question I know only that human nature plays a role; to the second, no.

I do not know, quite simply, the extent to which capitalism and the rights of women, gays, trans people, and various ethnic groups overlap. All I know is that it is not total; that’s stupid. It misses the point of socialism and it does nothing to help the circumstances of those for whom it claims to speak.

And this is where I and intersectionality depart.

Extraordinary Claims; Extraordinary Evidence

The late Christopher Hitchens was very fond his trumpet-call that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” His attacks against the faithful are just as relevant to those whose reverence of the police service blinds them to some of the most damning suspicions that confront it.

Let’s try. I have an extraordinary claim for you: that the following chronicle of events is nothing but “a thousand fuckups”, honest and sweet:

  • Even though Mark Duggan was not carrying a gun, which he had somehow managed to throw 20ft without any witness seeing, V53 shot him in the honest belief that he was;
  • V53 shot him again when it seemed as though Duggan’s phantom gun was pointing in his direction;
  • There was nothing of interest in Duggan’s minicab, which was mysteriously removed from the scene before being returned;
  • The Met’s descent first from the erroneous claim that Duggan had fired on police, then to the claim that he had a gun, then that a trained marksman had thought that he had, was an awkward list of blunders;
  • The neatly-collaborating statements of both V53 and his colleague was unrelated to the eight hours in which they had been conferring;
  • So too was their refusal to answer any questions in separate interviews.

I will grant you that each of those points, on its own, is plausible; we are all human. But taken together, V53’s series of events are most fantastical.

So where, I ask, is the extraordinary evidence to explain it? The defensive mechanisms will kick in: no member of the public can hope to share in the inquest’s insight, I am told. I don’t dispute that; worse, I know full well that I lack both the skills and the patience to come up with anything of use from the evidence. Legal systems uproot our lefty assumptions, they say – no anti-racist battle cries, no strikes. Just the jury’s impartial conclusions.

No, forget all of that. My question is – what possible extra “detail” could salvage this incredible story?

I ask because the police are simply not measured to the same standards as the public under their watch. Not a single officer, in the last fifty years, has been convicted for death in custody. And how does this come as a surprise – to all but the merriest utopians – when juries like that at the inquest into Duggan’s death have to be “certain” of the officer’s malicious intent? There’s not a single psychologist in Britain who could do that.

Perhaps the officer was telling the truth about his mistake; I am in no position to say. Nor do I know whether or not V53 was intended to be the scapegoat of an inept, or institutionally racist, police service; as it stands, these questions cannot be answered while officers are absolved of the burden of proof.

But may I remind you that someone died here –  anyone who does not question this verdict not only shows himself content with the prospect of executions on the streets of London, but surrenders his analytical faculties to the lame, brain-dead assumptions that saturate most of this country’s understanding of police integrity.

Don’t assume the best of the police.


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