there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!
We should welcome the fact that Gerry Downing [GD] has repented of his association with Ian Donovan [ID] and his anti-Semitic theories. However repentance, at least for socialists, is not enough. GD needs to come to terms with why he maintained an alliance with ID for at least 5 years.
In last week’s Weekly Worker, GD announced the expulsion of ID and the Trotskyist Faction [TF] from Socialist Fight [SF]. In this week’s paper ID denies that he has been expelled since it is his comrades who are in the majority. The expulsion is therefore ‘dead in the water’
Where the truth lies is irrelevant since, with or without ID, SF is politically dead. GD’s letter says that for the past 5 years SF has harboured within it a key individual, ID, who is ‘in lockstep’ with Gilad Atzmon [GA] whom he describes as a ‘left Mussolini-Strasserite fascist.’ What kind of Trotskyist or Marxist organisation is it which has harboured within it a neo-Nazi and one whom, until very recently, GD himself gave uncritical support to?
ID’s defence, if that is the right word, is that GD has become a Zionist because he doesn’t support expelling all Zionists from the Labour Party. Neither do I. I am in favour of disaffiliating or proscribing Zionist organisations such as Labour Friends of Israel and Jewish Labour Movement not individuals per se, although clearly Zionist apparatchiks and propagandists should be shown the door.
ID’s letter also constitutes an appalling apologia for GA’s anti-Semitism, including his comments questioning the Holocaust.
What is important however are the political issues that this falling out between ID and GD involves and not who expelled whom.
When Labour Against the Witchhunt [LAW] was formed at the end of 2017, it faced an immediate problem. Set up to fight the Zionists’ fake anti-Semitism smear campaign and the ensuing suspensions and expulsions, it faced a problem. Two of those present at the inaugural meetings, ID and GD were espousing anti-Semitic politics
Unsurprisingly LAW’s officers decided that they had no alternative but to exclude supporters of SF. We were called witchhunters and accused of hypocrisy since we were set up to protest the expulsion of Labour Party members for ‘anti-Semitism’ and yet here were we expelling SF for anti-Semitism!
The difference of course was that the target of the ‘anti-Semitism’ allegations in the Labour Party were innocent. Their real ‘crime’ was being anti-Zionists. SF was guilty. The bourgeois and Zionist press however weren’t interested in such nuances.
The Independent’s ‘Group set up to protest against Labour’s expulsion of members accused of antisemitism expels members for alleged antisemitism’ reported that ‘Gerry Downing, who was excluded from Labour Against the Witchhunt (LAW), has accused the group of conducting its own witch hunt against him.’
In the lead up to the LAW meeting on January 6th 2018 SF appealed to its supporters to come to the all-members meeting where the question of their exclusion would be decided. They wrote:
No one can point to a single act or political stance that is in any way racist or anti-Semitic except in the minds of those who want to appease the Labour party bureaucracy of Ian McNicol.
Our actions were compared to a ‘throwback to the Great Purges in the USSR in the 1930s and 1940s’.
‘Today, he [TG] and his bed mate Jack Conrad are in a bloc with the same Iain McNichol who is framing him up for anti-Semitism. This is class treachery at its most pathetic.’
Two months later I was expelled by my bedmate! You can imagine my surprise when GD’s letter appeared in last week’s Weekly Worker informing us that ‘Socialist Fight has expelled Ian Donovan and his ‘Trotskyist Faction’ by a unanimous vote.’
This is to be welcomed but clearly it is not enough. You cannot wipe away the past 5 years through bureaucratic means. It is incumbent on Gerry to admit that we were right to exclude SF from LAW and to accept that we were not ‘witchhunters’ but anti-racists
Gerry informs us that ID and the TF were expelled for ‘anti-Semitism and support for the racist, anti-Semitic and left Mussolini-Strasserite fascist, Gilad Atzmon.’
GD quotes from GA’s 2006 essay ‘On Anti-Semitism’: “… we must begin to take the accusation that the Jewish people are trying to control the world very seriously’. GA goes on to say that whether the infamous Czarist forgery, the Protocols of the elder of Zion, are genuine or a forgery is irrelevant since “American Jews do try to control the world, by proxy.” Hitler’s take on the Protocols in Mein Kampf was that they must be genuine because they were true!
Quoting from GA’s most recent book Being in Time that ‘“Fascism, I believe, more than any other ideology, deserves our attention, as it was an attempt to integrate left and right.’ GD concludes that GA is a fascist. Furthermore, since ID has ‘developed a full-blown ideological outlook in lockstep with Atzmon’, citing Donovan’s defence of GA’s admiration for ex-KKK neo-Nazi David Duke, he alleges that ID too is now a fascist.
GD also cites ID’s defence of Atzmon groupie Devon Nola that ‘“Bolshevism was a Jewish-led form of government.’
It is to be welcomed that Gerry now repudiates use of the term, ‘the world ‘Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie’’ and the whole notion of a Jewish-Zionist imperialist vanguard as anti-Semitic tropes.’ The idea that there is a Jewish sub-set of the ruling class, still less a pan national Jewish bourgeoisie is deeply anti-Semitic and reminiscent of Nazi world Jewish conspiracy theories. They have no place in a socialist let alone Marxist group.
However GD also has to explain why he ever went along with this nonsense. At the very least it must show some serious deficiency in his own understanding of capitalism and imperialism and leave open the question, ‘what is Socialist Fight for’?
It is equally welcome that GD now believes it is inappropriate to refer to Jews such as Kissinger and Milton Friedman as examples of Jews being
“overrepresented among the most strident spokespeople for capitalist reaction” without openly recognising that they are doing so primarily as representatives of the interests of imperialist capitalism, as in the Pinochet coup in Chile against Allende in 1973, and not as any separate Jewish influence or conspiracy.
ID’s Theses argued that what is distinctive about Israel is that unlike other settler colonial states ‘Israel has no ‘mother country’ because it was populated by part of the Jewish population from several countries.’ This is one of GA’s key argument as to why Israel’s character owes nothing to its being a settler colonial state but to the fact that it is a Jewish state. And it is the Jewishness that most interests GA.
It is of course a bogus argument. South Africa’s Boers had no mother country either. Nor did the American colonists once they had rebelled. Palestine had British imperialism as its sponsor. What distinguishes settler colonialism is not who sponsors it but what the settlers do. It is the political economy of settler colonialism which matters. Do the settlers depend on exploitation of the indigenous labour or do they want to exclude it
ID explains support for Israel by the West as being on account of ‘Jewish overrepresentation in the US and other ruling classes.’ In other words Jews form an ethnic lobby. Although ID doesn’t realise it, this is what the Zionists themselves say! When arguing in support of Israel the Zionists claim to represent the whole Jewish community (apart from a few Jews of the ‘wrong sort’). No. 8 of the Board of Deputies 10 Commandments, which Labour leadership candidates were expected to endorse proclaims that
‘labour must engage with the Jewish community via its main representative groups, and not through fringe organisations and individuals.’
It is Zionist advocates who argue that only Jews have the right to define what is anti-Semitic. In the words of Jonathan Freedland
black people are usually allowed to define what’s racism; women can define sexism; Muslims are trusted to define Islamophobia. But when Jews call out something as antisemitic, leftist non-Jews feel curiously entitled to tell Jews they’re wrong,
Freedland was talking nonsense. There is no homogenous women’s view as to what sexism is nor is there a Black monopoly on the definition of racism whereas the Zionist movement insists that everybody accept a definition of anti-Semitism whose sole purpose is defence of Israel. And further they also insist that they, and only they, represent British Jews.
In order to understand the background to GD’s letter it is instructive to have a look at what SF said at the time we were ‘witchhunting’ them. ID’s Third-Camp Stalinoids bring Witchhunt into ‘Labour Against the Witchhunt’ spoke about ‘the role of Jewish bourgeois in the diaspora.’ This ‘Jewish component within the ruling classes of Western countries that exceeds by many times over the proportion of Jews in the general population’ turns a ‘normal relationship’ between states ‘into a servile relationship where states like the USA give barely critical support to Israeli atrocities against Palestinians.’
Socialist Fight accused the CPGB of having engaged in the ‘indulgence of Jewish sensibilities” as if all Jews have the same sensibilities. It is a statement which could have been taken from an overtly anti-Semitic publication. SF also defended GA’s belief that the Bolshevik Revolution was Jewish dominated describing his views as ‘confused and paranoid’ rather than calling their fascist lineage out.
ID defended GA and attacked the campaign that Jewish anti-Zionists waged against him and the SWP’s toleration of him. Ours was
‘a reactionary campaign, contrary to working class democracy, and in reality constituted an anti-left witch-hunt which the SWP unfortunately capitulated to.’
Not only that but
Atzmon manages to poke holes in key aspects of Zionist ideology, and expose some of the capitulations to Zionism and Jewish communalism of some of those on the left who claim to oppose Zionism. He is a savage critic, albeit from an idealist standpoint, of Jewish identity politics, which… is the identity politics of an oppressor people, and thereby Atzmon’s critique, along with those of others such as Shlomo Sand, is essential for Marxists to engage with.
Yet during the debate on whether or not LAW should exclude SF ID denied that they had described the Jews as an ‘oppressor people’ which suggests that his ‘materialist’ analysis of what he calls ‘the Jewish Question’ is indefensible.
Atzmon’s ‘critique’ of Zionism includes drawing a straight line between the ‘Judaic god’ of Moses and Israel’s behaviour today. In ‘The Wandering Who’ (p.120) Atzmon writes that:
The Judaic God, as portrayed by Moses… is an evil deity, who leads his people to plunder, robbery and theft. … Israel, the Jewish State, has been following Moses’ call. The ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people in 1948, and the constant and total abuse of the Palestinian people since then, makes Deuteronomy 6:10–12 look like a prophecy fulfilled.
Atzmon’s statement in his essay Truth, History and Integrity questioning Auschwitz has nothing in common with Arab or third world Holocaust denial. Yes because Zionism uses the Holocaust as a weapon many Arabs therefore query the weapon itself rather than the use made of it. But Atzmon comes from the oppressor people. His ideas are from European neo-Nazis. When GA wrote
I am left puzzled here, if the Nazis ran a death factory in Auschwitz-Birkenau, why would the Jewish prisoners join them at the end of the war? Why didn’t the Jews wait for their Red liberators? I think that 65 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, we must be entitled to start to ask the necessary questions. We should ask for some conclusive historical evidence and arguments rather than follow a religious narrative that is sustained by political pressure and laws. (my emphasis)
ID merely says that
‘His sometimes-sceptical remarks about the Holocaust have an Israeli origin, and are a confused reaction to the abuse of the Holocaust to justify hideous Israeli crimes.’
The first two sentences of the above quotation are omitted from the chapter ‘Truth, History and Integrity’ in his book. Clearly GA recognised that they were problematic even if ID didn’t!GA also went on to justify the persecution of Jews under the Nazis by conflating the Jews of Europe with Israeli Jews today. In essence he was justifying the anti-Semitism that led to Auschwitz.
65 years after the liberation of Auschwitz we should be able to ask – why? Why were the Jews hated? Why did European people stand up against their neighbours? Why are the Jews hated in the Middle East (pp. 175-176 The Wandering Who)
For anyone interested in a Report of the meeting of January 6th 2018, including a comprehensive analysis of how SF adopted the politics of anti-Semitism, as a means of explaining Zionism, you can go here.
GD has written a mea culpa of sorts, explaining that when he formed an alliance with ID
‘I did not examine too closely the politics of Ian’s Draft Theses on the Jews and Modern Imperialism’.
This is, to say the least, hard to take.
In an interview with GA Gerry wrote that ‘I do not agree he is either racist or anti-Semitic.’ Gerry’s explanation for his alliance with ID was that he had just lost two comrades and that
‘I desperate needed someone who understood the history of the Marxism-Leninism-Trotskyism, at least to a certain level and so made that alliance with Ian, which I now recognise as opportunist.’
Opportunism is probably the least of it! The anti-Semitism inherent in what ID wrote was staring GD in the face. Even if GD didn’t have a great grasp of the history of Zionism he must have been acquainted with the nuts and bolts of Marxism and a class analysis.
In Why Marxists must address the Jewish Question concretely today ID wrote that ‘Zionism is a Jewish nationalist-communalist project’ which is not true. It became an ethno-nationalist movement in Palestine/Israel but originally it was a separatist reaction to anti-Semitism. After all Poalei Zion in Russia joined the Bolsheviks. ID describes the outcome of WWII as having led to
‘an emerging understanding that the Jewish bourgeoisie was an important reserve for the survival of capitalism itself, particularly in its ability to see beyond narrow national horizons and look out for the interests of the bourgeois class on a broader basis.
In other words the ‘Jewish bourgeoisie’ were the guardians of the rest of the capitalist class! ID went on to state
‘If Socialist Fight is right on Zionism’s special relationship to global finance capital what programmatic implications does this have?’
‘Does it mean that we specifically target Jewish capital?’ Answer: Not all Jewish capital. But we do want to expose that a specific part of Jewish capital has an ethnocentric interest in the dispossession of Palestinians.
Targeting Jewish capitalists was the anti-capitalism of the Brownshirts. It was what the Nazis and anti-Semitic movements in Europe did. I find it difficult to understand how Gerry could seriously accept this garbage.
ID has responded to his expulsion by saying that they have ‘taken on the mantle’ of Socialist Fight.’ Gerry Downing needs to ask some serious questions such as what is the purpose of a group that went down this road. Does it serve any purpose?
GD describes GA as a ‘left Mussolini-Strasserite fascist’ and by implication ID too since he has ‘developed a full-blown ideological outlook in lockstep with Atzmon’.
I disagree. Fascism is a specific political movement aimed at not only destroying working class organisations and the left but all democratic rights. It is the last resort of capitalism against the workers’ movement. GA certainly flirts with fascists and anti-Semites, neo-Nazis included but he has also flirted with the Left, including the SWP. He is, if anything, politically promiscuous. He reminds me of Christopher Hitchens, a contrarian who would argue positions for the outrage they would cause.
I’m sure that GA, an accomplished jazz player, is well aware that jazz was considered Jewish inspired ‘nigger music’ in Nazi Germany. Listening to jazz was considered an act of rebellion by rebellious youth chafing at the boring monotone culture of the Nazis. GA also works happily with Jews, converses with them and has no personal antagonism to Jews as Jews. In other words whilst his ideas are without doubt anti-Semitic, on a personal level he is not an anti-Semite. Nor is there any reason to believe that he has given his support to, still less become a member of, a fascist organisation.
Likewise ID, engaged in the hopeless task of proving that Marx and Trotsky would have approved of his batty notions that Jewish capital is responsible for the direction of US foreign policy today. Despite his many sins Ian looks to the left not the right. It would be wrong to categorise him as a fascist, if only through guilt by association.