Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Anti-Semitism, Populism, and calls for Labour expulsions – on all sides.

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“Sinister slogan” says Jonathan Freedland.

A comrade at the Chartist AGM said, roughly, this:

“Labour looks like two groups of people who want to expel each other”.

There are good reasons why people should be concerned with the way in which a fringe have broadcast anti-Semitic views.

As in this:

For the background to the man in the story,  Pete Gregson, see: A Stir in the Suburbs.

..the question still remains – does anti-Zionist obsession turn people into loons, or are loons attracted to anti-Zionism?

If people still bury their heads in the sand one can suggest they follow Steve Cook’s Twitter feed

Not to mention the Monster Raving Greenstein’s responses:


This does not mean following everybody in the other camp, many of whom seem equally fixated on this issue.

Jonathan Freedland, in the Guardian has made one of many efforts to associate Labour with anti-Jewish hatred  in recent days, claims that Corbyn’s ‘left-wing populism’ leaves the way open for anti-Semitic messages.

The roots of Labour’s antisemitism lie deep within the populist left.

Populism, is a “politics that pits the virtuous mass of ordinary people against a wicked, corrupt elite.” Freeland continues, singling out populist figures such as Nigel Farage, Hungary’s  Orbán and Boris Johnson  bending to the present national populist wind.

But Freedland’s main target is the “huge chunks of the egregious anti-Jewish racism spewed out in left circles and on social media has nothing to do with Israel or Palestine: it’s all bankers and Rothschilds, control of the media and Holocaust denial. Of course, sometimes “Zionism” is deployed as a handy codeword, but today’s anti-Jewish racists have often left the Middle East behind. It’s Jews they’re obsessed with.”

He then plunges further,

Matt Bolton and Frederick Harry Pitts argue that Corbynism’s big move is away from seeing capitalism as a system with its own unalterable dynamics, compelling all within it to operate according to its own logic, to seeing its cruelties instead as the work of malign individuals. “From this perspective,” they write, “capitalist crises, poverty and inequality are wholly avoidable phenomena. They are the result of an immoral minority wilfully using the power of money, financial trickery and ideology to undermine – or, indeed, ‘rig’ – a society based on ‘real’ production which would otherwise work to the benefit of all.”

Such a view of capitalism – focusing on individuals, not structures – doesn’t necessarily end in hatred of Jews: you might blame some other “immoral minority”. But this is the problem with talking endlessly of the “many, not the few” (a sinister slogan which I loathed when Tony Blair was using it). Pretty soon, and especially after the 2008 crash, people will ask: who exactly are this few, working so hard to deny the rest of us our utopia? The antisemite has a ready answer…

Without bothering to discuss what the “populist left” is – examples, one might think spring to mind,  would then go to the best known theorist of left-wing populism, Chantal Mouffe, or to explicitly populist left-wing parties, above all, La France insoumise (LFI) and Podemos. LFI is noted for its sovereigntism – the nationalist road against globalisation. It is Corbyn and his advisers’ tendency to this socialism  in one country, defying the globalised world which is the focus of Bolton and Pitts.

This is a different claim to Freedland’s that the ‘floating signifier’ of immoral minorities washes up in anti-semitism.

No proof for this sweeping claim is offered.

A more common direction is for left-populists, the case for a handful of supporters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon  is to take their national soveriegnty seriously and end up on the National Populist right.

If we look at Labour how many accept the “ready answer” of the anti-semite when Labour’s policy is against anti-semitism?

Like Mouffe (not to mention Ernesto Laclau)  at her most abstract Freedland seems to think it’s enough for a ‘discourse’ to be articulated for it to find a ready audience.

Critics of left-wing populism, including this Blog (cited in Bolton and Pitt’s book, Corbynism: A Critical Approach (2018), oppose the idea that one can pit a federated “people” against the “oligarchy” and the elite,. This is not just because of a belief in the structures of class, and the economics of capitalism, but because socialist and left-wing Enlightenment thinking mean thinking, not emotion, internationalist values, not populist nationalism, plebiscitary rule,  in a left form.

Many would consider that Freedland relies on charged emotions, or as Frédéric Lordon would call them, “affects”,  to carry his argument through.

A similar attempt to associate left-wing populism (not a term barely used by Corbyn supporters, and not that common even in articles in small circulation left magazines), is made by David Hirsch.

Why antisemitism and populism go hand-in-hand

The populist demagogues construct communities of the good and they cast out those who do not fit. The Corbynites call the bad people, the ‘one per cent’, the Zionists, the bankers or the elites. The Brexiters call them betrayers of the will of the people or they denounce those who side with foreign nations and bureaucrats against ‘us’. There is much contempt for the ‘liberal elite’, cosmopolitans, globalists and citizens of nowhere. Populism embraces nostalgic nationalism but it has one eye on a more radical project for the whole of humanity.

That an academic cites no sources  to prove his case to associate Corbyn and the Labour Party in this string of assertions is hardly surprising.

Otherwise known as an “amalgam” (amalgame, “Mélange d’éléments hétérogènes) this is a polemical technique, not an argument.

Academics are adept at making floating signifiers float…

Or to put it another way Hirsch is a conspiracy theory about populism, “Each populism is at heart an irrational conspiracy fantasy” as conspiracy theories.

Labour and anti-Semitism. 

Many people are irked by the charges of anti-semitism.

Lindsey German is – and we say this despite our deep differences – not wrong when she says this in her Weekly Briefing,

Antisemitism exists in the Labour Party and needs to be dealt with (ironically much of the slowness in all this predated the tenure of Jennie Formby). But it needs to be put in perspective and not to be blamed on Jeremy Corbyn who has a lifelong record of anti-racism, including opposing racism against Jews. However, since in particular the attack by Margaret Hodge on Corbyn last year, any such perspective has been abandoned.

Indeed. Labour is not a seed-bed of anti-semitism. Parts – on the evidence small parts – of the party have become the territory that forces hostile to our democratic principles. This should be “dealt with”.

However, German’s following call, from a member of the non-Labour  Counterfire, which spent many years backing red-brown George Galloway, is not helpful.

The Labour left needs to start giving as good at it gets from its enemies or it will lose, argues Lindsey German

I have always been hesitant about the tactic of reselection of MPs, because it has often backfired in the past. But really I see no alternative to the members challenging MPs who constantly attack the leadership and refuse to listen or make any compromise.

Accommodating these people hasn’t worked, so it’s time to replace them with people who respect the leadership and the membership.

Another, much less serious,  and much smaller, groupuscule, Labour Party Marxists, closely connected to Labour Against the Witch-hunt, whose Vice-Chair is the above Greenstein, yesterday endorsed the following approach:

Getting rid of some of the biggest saboteurs in the Parliamentary Labour Party is crucial in the fight to transform the party into a weapon of and for the working class.

So we have two prongs of an appeal, to rid the party of the “populist left”, accused of encouraging anti-Semitism, and the groupuscules calling to expel the right.


Boris Johnson is going to be British PM.

This chap is going to be in a key position of influence.

Most of us  intend to spend most of our time fighting them and the hard-right Brexit project.

Just remember: this is the Vice Chair of Labour Against the Witch-hunt:








One Response

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  1. And so it continues:

    Andrew Coates

    July 15, 2019 at 5:06 pm

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