Gerry Downing, Anti-Semitism and the Socialism of Fools
Gerry Downing, Anti-Semitism and the Socialism of Fools
Confusing the Jewish Question and Zionism
It was August Bebel,
the leader of the German Social Democratic Party who described anti-Semitism as
the ‘socialism of fools’. Gerry Downing
is nothing if not a fool. A complete
muddlehead leading a tiny Trotskyist group Socialist Fight.
The BBC made hay with Gerry Downing’s idiocy
Downing entered into the headlines last week when
he was cited by David Cameron in Question Time in the House of Commons. I believe Socialist Fight is one of the
splinters resulting from the implosion of the Workers Revolutionary Party of
Vanessa Redgrave fame.
Abram Leon – author of The Jewish Question – a Marxist Interpretation – which Downing willfully misunderstands
is an organisation that is causing much amusement to the Right. However his defence or ‘understanding’ of Al
Quada’s 9/11 attacks and the actions of ISIS are anything but amusing. Downing’s playing with anti-Semitism is also no
joke. His actions have been used to
discredit the wider left.
is fond of quoting Baruch Spinoza who said that “I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, buttounderstand them.”
is, of course, nothing at all wrong in understanding the actions of Al Qaeda or
ISIS. The problem is that Downing’s
understanding is both simplistic and wrong. Therein lies the problem.
Gerry Downing & John MacDonald in better days at a strike meeting
Downings main point, which is that the horrific massacres and oppression in the
Middle East and elsewhere are the result of imperialism’s intervention and
presence, is correct. It is not
controversial that the US war in Iraq killed approximately 1 million people. Nor is it a secret that US and British imperialism
supports oppressive regimes like Saudi Arabia, Egypt etc. Where he goes wrong is in seeing om either Al
Qaeda or ISIS any form of anti-imperialist force.
Hilary Clinton freely admitted, Al Qaeda is a creation of the very US imperialism
that Downing opposes. That in itself should give him pause for thought. The US deliberately created a fundamentalist
Islamic military/political presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan in order to
destroy the Soviet presence and the liberal bourgeois regime of the People’s Democratic Party of
Afghanistan (PDPA) under Babrak Karmal which had emerged in Afghanistan.
A weak bourgeois regime had emerged in Afghanistan, overthrowing the
previous king. The USSR stepped in to
support this regime and the US and Britain
did their best to put reactionary cut-throats in place, alongside their allies in the ISI intelligence service in Pakistan and the Saudi
The Taliban and Al Qaeda were the fruit of US
imperialism and like Frankenstein’s monster they turned on their benefactor. But there was and is nothing anti-imperialist
about them. Their politics represent the
worst form of medieval savagery. There
is nothing progressive about them – whether it is women’s education, sharia law
punishments, workers’ self organisation, the destruction of cultural symbols
such as the Buddhist statues of Bamiyan or the Greek-Roman architecture at
Like the Khmer Rouge these groups are neither fish nor
fowl. They defy political
description. Fascist is a easy shorthand
but it isn’t really appropriate because fascism is a product of a modern
industrial society where a movement based on a petit bourgeois rabble and lumpen
elements are welded into a nationalist force capable of destroying working-class
and progressive forces.
The Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIS are modern movements,
using modern technology, which are certainly a reaction to imperialism but a
reaction of the most politically backward type.
It is akin in some ways to the feudal socialism of anti-Semitic movements
like the Christian Social Party of Adolf Stocker.
ISIS for example are known to be controlled militarily
by ex-Baathist officers who have adopted Islam as a convenient justification
and legitimation for their barbarous rule.
How any socialist can support or ‘understand’, not as a means of
analysis but as a form of apology, an organisation which enslaves young Yazidi
women, whilst slaughtering all the men and older women, defies belief. A group which openly uses rape as a weapon of war. This genocidal group may indeed be a reaction
to the US’s imperialist slaughter in Iraq, it may have come into conflict with
the US and its sectarian Iraqi regime (although being supported by the Turkish
regime), but what type of reaction is it? Do we support any opposition, however reactionary, to US capitalism? Would that include the KKK?
The actions of both ISIS and Al Qaeda have, if anything,
been detrimental to liberation struggles in the Western Sahara, coming into
conflict with Polisario as it attempts to confessionalise their struggles. Likewise they have been a dire threat to the Tuareg
people and the National Movement for
the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) in Mali,
which have come into conflict with Al Qaeda in the Maghreb and local Islamist
groups. Indeed they have been responsible for poisoning the struggle of the Syrian people against Assad.
It is no accident that Israel is known to support al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra in Syria and it is widely suspected of supporting ISIS and is known to be the largest purchaser of ISIS’s oil wells. Opposing Zionism is not on the agenda of ISIS or Al-Qaeda.
But it isn’t just Socialist Fight and Gerry Downing’s
attitude to ISIS and Al Qaeda. It is
their barking attitude to what they term ‘the Jewish Question’. In his Why Marxists must address the JewishQuestion concretely today
Downing cites the classic Marxist tract ‘The Jewish
Question – A Marxist Interpretation’ by Abram Leon, the leader of the Fourth
International in Belgium, who died in Auschwitz, . Downing states that:
‘The Jewish bourgeois were exceptionally well-suited
for capitalist success because the social role of Jews as commodity-traders,
and later money-traders and lenders: a ‘people-class’ in the phrase of Abram
Leon, the great Belgian-Jewish Marxist theorist of the Jewish question, in
medieval Europe prior to the emergence of capitalism, gave them the cultural
advantage of a much older tradition in commodity economy than the ‘native’
Much of the above is arguable. Did Jewish bankers have any more formidable
advantages than those of Lombardy or Venice?
Were the Jewish bourgeoisie any more advantaged than the merchants of
the City of London or the French Huguenots? I doubt it. What is certain is that a separate Jewish bourgeoisie,
whose most famous representative was the Jewish financier and philanthropist Sir
Moses Montefiore, disappeared in the 19th century. As Leon noted:
‘The economic process from which the modern nations
issued laid the foundations for integration of the Jewish bourgeoisie into the
bourgeois nation.’ (p.116, Jewish Question – A Marxist Interpretation)
Downing’s remark that ‘Zionism is the cutting edge of
bourgeois reaction today’ is unexceptional.
There is no doubt that Zionist organisations
such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) or Christians United
for Israel are the most hawkish groups in terms of foreign policy. In this they are allied with the
neo-conservatives who dominated the Bush cabinet and who are fretting at Trump gaining the Republican nomination.
Likewise Downing’s statement that ‘The role Zionists
have played in the attempted witch-hunt against Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour
leadership campaign is glaringly obvious.’ cannot be doubted. But this was a Zionist witchhunt not a Jewish one. The Daily Mail initiated it and MPs like John Mann perpetrated it. Mann is not Jewish, but he is a devoted Zionist.
Quite what the long gone Jewish
Question (which was as much a problem with anti-Semitism) has to do with the
role of Zionism is somewhat of a mystery. Downing points out that 80% of Tory MP’s supported the
Conservative Friends of Israel in the last parliament and that ‘leading figures
in Labour like Ed Miliband and Ed Balls are involved with Labour Friends of
Israel. All this is true but most Tory
MPs are not Jewish. Likewise most LFI
sponsors. Ed Miliband,
who is Jewish was far less sympathetic to Zionism than Ed Balls, who is not Jewish.
It is when Downing asserts that Zionism’s ‘supporters
are highly conscious ethnocentric activists with a material base in terms of
capitalist property, within the ruling classes of several imperialist
countries, as well as Israel. This caste has acquired major moral and
political influence among much wider layers of the imperialist bourgeoisie. If
this were not true, Zionists could not have the influence they do in the
current situation.’ that Downing abandons Marxism and adopts anti-Semitism.
Zionism’s supporters are President Hollande of France and his Prime Minister Manuel Valls who are waging war on France’s BDS movement. They
are David Cameron and John Hagee. The
supporters of Zionism and the racist Israeli state include both Jewish and non-Jewish politicians and capitalists. It has nothing whatsoever to do with a
transnational Jewish bourgeoisie. This
reeks of the Jewish Conspiracy Theory. There is absolutely no evidence that the non-Jewish
bourgeoisie of Britain, the United
State or France is engaged in a battle with the Jewish bourgeoisie. This is fantasy land stuff.
The problem is that the ruling elites in all
the aforementioned countries support the Israeli state and attack anti-Zionists
and the supporters of the Palestinians as ‘anti-Semites’. That is why, in his interview on the BBC with
Andrew Neil, Gerry Downing was, to put it mildly, left spluttering and
inarticulate, since he knew deep down that what he was arguing made no sense
from a Marxist or communist perspective.
That is the price of allowing Ian Donovan, who was
excluded from the Communist faction of Left Unity and an open supporter of
Gilad Atzmon into his organisation.
There is no Marxist or materialist analysis which explains the support
for Zionism of Western bourgeois politicians and their acolytes in terms of
a Jewish ethnic presence or lobby. This is indeed the socialism of fools and idiots.