Corbyn and his Sturmabteilung: is this serious political debate?
As many readers of this Blog, often the majority, are not from the UK, this is a stark reminder to them of how far things have go with us.
Left Socialist Blog
Soral and the ‘Anti-Zionist’ List. (2009).
This court case (the judgement will known on the 29th of November) is astonishing.
Procès d’un ex-mannequin contre Soral : 6 mois de prison ferme requis. (Les Inrocks 20.10.16.).
During the trial a black mannequin, Binti Bangoura, accursed Soral of a sustained campaign of harassment. That is, endless text messages, threats and and racist insults. She had contacted him via Facebook, on the basis that he appeared a fighter against injustice. She asked him to spread an article about Guinea, la Guinée. They swopped intimate photos. Soon he became pressing. Too pressing. Trying to back off Bangoura found that Soral began to send more and more unpleasant messages. These included, “Ton destin c’est d’être une pute à juifs”, (Your destiny it to a whore for the Jews) and “Finalement, il ne te reste que les juifs et les pédés” (in the end you’re only got the Jews and the Poofs.”) .
The campaign against Bangoura became a “tsunami” of insulting messages on the Internet, including on Soral’s web site, Egalité et réconciliation.
This not an ordinary tale of sexual harassment.
Alain Soral began his political career with a brief visit (whose date and existence from the mid-1990s to is contested) to the Parti Communiste Français (PCF). He soon became a ‘sovereigntist’ opposing the Maastricht Treaty Referendum in 1992, and railing at Wall Street, the Frankfurt Bourse, the Dwarfs of Tokyo and…international Zionism. Soral’s call for a new alliance of Communists, nationalist Gaullists, ‘left’ republican nationalists, and ‘ultra-nationalists’ did not take off. He left the PCF.
Soral’s ‘post-left’ development began with a critique of ‘communitarianism’ – that is anything that is not French nationalism. In the new century he worked closely with the far-right Front National. At one point he was an adviser to Jean-Marie Le Pen. During this time 2006) he visited Gaddafi, and expressed admiration for Hugo Chávez. Even Le Pen backed off when he began to talk of the gas chambers as a whimsical fairy-tales (lubies).
In 2009 for the European Elections, Soral, with the ‘comedian’ Dieudonné and Yahia Gouasmi, President of the Shiite Federation of France, a « Liste antisioniste » anti-Zionist list (1,30% in Ile de France, 2,83% en Seine-Saint-Denis). It is said that it was financed by the Iranian government, to the sum of 3 million euros. He regularly participates in pro-Palestinian demonstration, despite opposition from some of the organisers. More recently he has been a great supporter of Vladimir Putin and has promoted the ideas of “néo-eurasisme“. He is, it perhaps goes without saying, pro-Assad. A critic of globalisation, Soral propagates a variety of conspiracy theories, involving Freemasons, the bourgeoisie, the USA, the Banks and ….well you can guess.
He is, above all, anti-Semite.
Soral is political confusionism incarnate.
Indeed his web site, Égalité et Réconciliation, claims to synthesize the values and culture of the Right with the economics of the Left.
There are too many legal prosecutions against him to list, but they all centre of his racism and anti-Semitism.
He is notorious for his opposition to events and memorials commemorating the Shoah, such as Holocaust day. One incident in 2013 involved him making the infamous ‘quenelle’ gesture in front of the Berlin Shoah momument, and broadcasting a video of the event.
Soral is close enough to Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala – who created the ‘up your arse’ Quenelle – to be known as his eminence grise. Dieudonné, has himself run into trouble for his attacks on Jews, which he has attempted to defend pointing to their alleged role in the African slave trade. (See amongst scores of posts: Réponse courte à Dieudonné : les Juifs et la traite des esclaves).
The prosecution in the present Soral Trial has called for a six months prison sentence.
Completely Out of her Depth.
A leading Labour activist was heckled at an anti-Semitism meeting on Monday after she wrongly criticised Holocaust Memorial Day for not including non-Jewish genocide victims.
In secret footage obtained by HuffPostUK Jackie Walker also stirred anger as she questioned the need for security at Jewish schools, and said she hadn’t heard an anti-Semitism definition she could “work with”.
To jeers, the Momentum vice-chair said “wouldn’t it be wonderful if Holocaust day was open to all peoples who’ve experienced Holocaust?”
When told the day was indeed for all post- World War II genocides, she said “in practice it is not circulated and advertised as such.
The Guardian notes,
Momentum’s vice-chair, Jackie Walker, is facing calls to resign after she incorrectly criticised Holocaust Memorial Day at a party antisemitism training session for commemorating only Jewish victims.
Walker also took issue with the definition of antisemitism used at the training event, which was organised for members at the annual Liverpool conference by the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM).
“In terms of Holocaust day, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Holocaust day was open to all people who experienced holocaust?” she told organisers, heard in a recording of the event.
Holocaust Memorial Day is intended to commemorate all victims of the Nazi Holocaust, and other genocides, including atrocities in Bosnia and Rwanda.
After shouts from participants, Walker said that was not how she viewed the event. “In practice, it’s not actually circulated and advertised as such,” she said. “I was looking for information and I still haven’t heard a definition of antisemitism that I can work with.”
Walker was previously suspended from the Labour party after posting during a Facebook discussion that Jews were “chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade” and arguing “the Jewish Holocaust does not allow Zionists to do what they want”. She was readmitted to the party
During the training event, Walker also questioned why Jewish organisations, including schools, said they needed high security to protect themselves from antisemitic attacks.
“I was a bit concerned by your suggestion that the Jewish community is under such threat that it has to use security in all its buildings,” she said. “I have a grandson, he is a year old. There is security in his nursery and every school has security now. It’s not because I’m frightened or his parents are frightened that he is going to be attacked.”
One participant replied: “Are Isis going to attack your grandson like they attacked a school in Toulouse?”
Jeremy Newmark, the chair of the JLM, said Walker should resign from her position in Momentum. “I am appalled that somebody who has already caused great hurt and pain to so many Jewish people by promoting an antisemitic myth would come to a training session designed to help party activists address antisemitism and use the occasion to challenge the legitimacy of the training itself,” he said.
While awaiting Jackie Walker’s resignation, I note the following.
Holocaust Day is, as the reports indicate, about all Holocausts.
Walker’s comments come in the context of her claim to Jewish ancestry.
I have Irish ancestry, my paternal grandmother was a ‘Kelly’.
Does this give me special authority about the Irish famine?
Does Jackie think it “would be wonderful” if I could speak about my ancestors, people I did not know, and I could ‘talk’ about their ‘pain’ at their experience?
By contrast I do know something about the Shoah and the Jewish experience.
I am circumcised by a Mohel.
The last words of my mother to me, Mavis, were about an elderly Jewish East End Communist, who had, despite his physical disabilities, travelled to see her at Saint Elizabeth Hospice (Ipswich) , “Cyril came, how kind.”
My closest friends, from my North London comprehensive school, when a Jewish girl Yvonne, sat by me in class, to our little North London gang, of Paul, Nick (Rosen, his experiences of the Young Socialists are given voice, that is cited, in the book Comrade Corbyn) and others, were, often, but far from always, you’ve guessed it ‘Jewish’.
Expect we never talked about this.
If somebody is going to talk asa (as a….) the first *real* girlfriend I had, Jackie, was the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. She had come through the camps.
Jackie and her parents (who spent most of their time abroad) lived in a council flat just next to Swiss Cottage.
Her mother, who had the tattoo number on her arm, and who forbade any thing from the fridge being thrown away, was a Viennese Jew.
I cannot express in words the respect I have for this woman, the mother of my beloved.
I commemorate Holocaust day, and do not need ‘comments’ about it, least of all of this nature.
Jackie should resign and shut up.
You are out of your depth.
Thank you very much for your email from Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East. I have read your six pledges and am in support of them all. I have been campaigning for the human rights of the Palestinian people for decades and will continue to do so for as long as their rights are being denied to them.
I have been campaigning for the human rights of the Palestinian people for decades and will continue to do so for as long as their rights are being denied to them.
I fully support a two state solution based on 1967 borders where a fully independent Palestinian state can exist alongside an Israeli state in peace. I would aim to aid the achievement of this by reaffirming the Labour Party’s decision, made under Ed Milliband, to recognize the state of Palestine and would lobby governments, multinational institutions and other political parties around the world to do likewise. I believe that this recognition is essential for establishing the principle of equality between Israel and Palestine.
Both British and American governments have rightly criticised illegal settlements in the West Bank. It is clear to me that the only hope of ending this policy is if the international community intensifies its pressure on the Israeli government. In order to further the peace process, I am, therefore, in support of targeted boycotts with the aim of requiring the cessation of all settlement activity.
To reduce the UK’s role in the perpetuation of this conflict, I have also called for the UK government to cease selling arms to Israel.
Whilst a lasting solution between Israel and Palestine is being sought, it is imperative that the matter of Israeli human rights abuses is addressed urgently. The siege of Gaza, the detention of civilians without trial (including the detention of children) and the harassment and humiliation of Palestinians as they go about their everyday life must cease.
I have previously called for, and will go on demanding, that the strongest possible protests be made to the Israeli government, with escalating consequences, if they do not uphold the human right norms we would expect all those seeking warm relations with Britain to maintain.
Thank you for your letter on behalf of Labour Friends of Palestine & the Middle East on this issue of profound importance. I am proud to be a member of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East and I strongly support a viable peace process based on internationally recognised (1967) borders.
I continue to unequivocally support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the recognition of a viable Palestinian State alongside a safe and viable Israel. The terms of a peace deal are well known and I support them completely: two sovereign states living side by side in peace and security. The right to self-determination is an inalienable right for the peoples of both Palestine and Israel. I believe that the state of Palestine should be recognised, within the UN and by the UK, and I voted to recognise a Palestinian state in 2014 as an essential step towards to realising a two-state solution. I recognise that, ultimately, this can only be achieved by both sides sitting down together, with equal status, negotiating in good faith and making some difficult compromises. Peace is not something that can be imposed on either the Israelis or Palestinians by force or diktat.
I am opposed to violations of international human rights law, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the construction of the separation wall on Palestinian land. I consider the settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories to be illegal, unjustifiable and detrimental to the prospects of achieving a two state solution. I also agree that the blockade on Gaza should be lifted and that rocket attacks and terrorism against Israelis must stop.
I am not convinced that a boycott of goods from Israel would help to achieve a negotiated peace settlement. In order to support the peace process we must build bridges between all those who support peace in the region. My time working in Northern Ireland as part of the peace process showed me that,
beyond negotiations, peace only really comes when each side moves towards reconciliation. As friends of the people of Israel and Palestine, our most important task is to help foster cooperation and coexistence between both sides and I believe the work of LFPME makes an important contribution to that understanding.
I hope this reply is helpful and thank you for giving me the opportunity to set out my views in more detail.
As signaled by AT and DO: and already being debated.
Without going into the complexities of this, not to mention the broader context of the conflicts in the region, the two statements show a great deal of common ground, within the Party, the left internationally, and, most importantly, within important sections of the people affected.
The debate remains live on “targeted boycotts” aimed at illegal settlements, wider “boycotts”, or the justification for this kind of action against Israel, at all.
We agree with the views of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty: opposing all-embracing boycotts of Israel as advocated by the BDS movement.
Barghouti is quite upfront that BDS ultimately means ostracising everything Israeli. The campaign is “working to expel Israel and its complicit institutions from international and interstate academic, cultural, sporting… environmental, financial, trade, and other forums. He soft-soaps that “groups that for tactical reasons support only a subset of BDS, or a targeted boycott of specific products or organisations in Israel, or supporting Israel, are still our partners. Boycott is not a one-size-fits-all type of process. What is important to agree on, though, is why we are boycotting and towards what ends”. He distinguishes between advocating such a targeted boycott as a tactic, leading to the ultimate goal of boycotting all Israeli goods and services, and advocating such a targeted boycott as the ultimate strategy. While the former “may be necessary in some countries as a convenient and practical tool to raise awareness and promote debate about colonial and apartheid regime, the latter, despite its lure, would be in direct contradiction with the stated objectives of the Palestinian boycott movement”.
Barghouti is also clear that the boycott of settlement goods alone is not sufficient. The BDS movement, he says,” views the approach of focusing on banning only settlement products as the ultimate goal – rather than the first, convenient step towards a general Israeli products boycott – as problematic, practically, politically and morally”. At a practical level “Israel has made it extremely difficult to differentiate between settlement and other Israeli products, simply because the majority of parent companies are based inside Israel or because colony-based companies have official addresses there”. Politically “even if distinguishing between produce of settlements and produce of Israel were possible, activists who on principle – rather than out of convenience – advocate a boycott of only the former may argue that they are merely objecting to the Israeli military occupation and colonisation of 1967 and have no further problems with Israel”. Finally, there is a moral problem with accepting these “two grave… violations of human rights and international law as givens”.
BDS may seem in the ascendant for now. It may make progress in places, on the back of the Israeli state’s next atrocity. BDS needs to be fought politically, because it stands in the path of two states, the only consistently democratic solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. But BDS is ultimately a pessimistic approach. It put the agency for change outside of the region. It wants civil society, which includes not only NGOs and unions but bourgeois governments and business internationally to make things right for the Palestinians. There is another road. The Palestinian workers in alliance with Israeli workers fighting for a two state democratic solution to the national question, is the force that could deliver peace and much more besides.
Corbyn and his Sturmabteilung: is this serious political debate?
As many readers of this Blog, often the majority, are not from the UK, this is a stark reminder to them of how far things have go with us.
Michael Foster, who has given party £400,000, says he did not use word ‘Nazi’ in piece referring to leader’s Sturmabteilung.
The Labour party has suspended a prominent donor for likening Jeremy Corbyn’s team to Nazi storm troopers.
Michael Foster, a former celebrity agent who has donated more than £400,000 to the party, said the Labour leader and his team had “no respect for others and worse, no respect for the rule of law”.
His comments were published in article published in the Mail on Sunday, titled: “Why I despise Jeremy Corbyn and his Nazi stormtroopers’, by Jewish Labour donor Michael Foster.”
The piece appeared on 14 August after the high court ruled against Foster’s bid to stop Corbyn from being automatically allowed to stand for re-election as leader.
The former Labour parliamentary candidate in Camborne and Redruth said: “To me, respect for the rule of law is fundamental to a democracy.
“The courts decided that the rules as they stand allowed it. This decision advantaged Corbyn and his Sturm Abteilung (stormtroopers).”
Foster has said that he did not use the word “Nazi” in his article, but it was included in the headline by the Mail on Sunday.
This is what the relevant section of the article says,
To me, respect for the rule of law is fundamental to a democracy. Once political parties believe they are above the law it ends with all opposition silenced, whether it is my grandparents in Dachau, or the Left in Erdogan’s Turkey rounded up and held uncharged in prison.
The courts decided that the rules as they stand allowed it. This decision advantaged Corbyn and his Sturm Abteilung (stormtroopers), but on Friday afternoon the Appeal Court handed down a big decision for British democracy.
It disallowed the attempt by arriviste followers of Corbyn to flood the Labour electoral college. This caused the mask of reasonableness of the Corbynista leadership to slip even further.
Suddenly the most holy of holies, the NEC, was labelled a shoddy organisation capable of using a ‘grubby little device’. Cross this lot and you are straight into the firing line.
Corbyn no longer has a clear path in his bid to destroy the Labour Party as we have known it in Government and in Opposition for the past 70 years.
The Mirror adds,
Mr Foster insists his remarks referred to Mr Corbyn’s “leadership cadre”, and could just as easily have compared them to the “Pretorian Guard or Revolutionary Guard or Red Guard – a group there to secure the leader and his political plans.”
There are already voices from the left calling, ironically or not, for support for Foster against the decision to suspend him…
This is not the only example of complete political hysteria and confusion in the Labour Party.
A few days ago there was this, from Owen Smith, candidate to lead the Labour Party, during the debate with Jeremy Corbyn on Question Time.
Mr Smith said: “Under Jeremy’s leadership, we’ve seen people coming into the Labour party from the hard-left of politics people who are bringing into our party anti-Semitic attitudes and that cannot be acceptable,
“There are people on the far left of the Labour party who are flooding in to our party and that’s their word, not mine.The Alliance of Workers Liberty only a couple of weeks ago said ‘let’s flood into the Labour party’.
“Just the other day I saw a tweet purporting to be from Jeremy’s team to members of a hard-left group saying ‘you’re welcome to come to Jeremy’s rallies, just leave the flags and banners at home’. And the reason for that is we’ve seen some of those flags and banners at some of Jeremy’s rallies and unfortunately some of those people are bringing in attitudes to our party from the hard-left that I don’t think is welcome.”
“There are people who have come from the AWL and the SWP (Socialist Workers Party) and some of the other left-wing groups which have either not been part of the Labour party or have been proscribed by the Labour party and some of those people are advocating joining the Labour party in order to support Jeremy and in order to control the Labour party. Some of the people around Jeremy are absolutely encouraging it, of that there is no doubt.”
The AWL replied (in our view, in measured terms),
On BBC Question Time (Labour leadership debate, 8 September) Owen Smith, in the stream-of-consciousness style that has come to typify Smith’s approach to political debate, links the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (as part of the “hard left in our Party” “flooding into the Party”) to those on the left who “associate anti-Zionism, anti-imperialism”, “anti-Israel” perspectives (sic). That is, he implicitly called us anti-semitic.
This incoherent tirade against the “hard left” was a disgraceful intervention into an important issue that deserves serious, well-informed debate.
Smith’s comments referred back to an earlier exchange with Jeremy Corbyn in the programme in which he accused Corbyn of not doing enough to make the Party a safe place for Jewish members; and the hard left (which would, he implied include the AWL, were causing this problem). There were other accusations streamed into Smith’s tirade, but let’s focus on the accusation of anti-semitism.
You don’t have to know very much about what the AWL stands for, agree with the AWL’s two-state position on Israel-Palestine, or even be very left-wing to be aware that any accusation of “left anti-semitism” against us, however half-stated, is ludicrous. We have spent many years exposing, analysing and fighting this phenomena and it has not won us many friends on the organised hard left!
Rhea Wolfson is a breath of fresh air.
Like many activists I was very pleased to see a fresh face standing for the Centre left Grassroots Alliance slate for Labour’s NEC along with the other strong candidates, Ann Black, Claudia Webbe, Darren Williams, Christine Shawcroft, and Pete Willsman.
Reflecting the diversity of the democratic socialist, labour spectrum reflected on this list, which includes those from all parts of this tradition, Rhea is an activist with her own views. She immediately attracted criticism, from the Progress Right-wing of the party, from the Eustonites, and, as can be seen from her own account, from others who have nothing to do with the labour movement or any form of left.
Harry’s Place – the ‘Eustonites’ – singled her out.
Saul Freeman wrote,
Rhea Wolfson, a young socialist who has stated that “winning 2020 should not be the priority of the Labour Party” and asserts that “to focus only on elections loses sight of other ways of making effective changes in society”.
If Ken & Rhea didn’t exist, some of us would be tempted to invent them as clumsily drawn characters to use in our blog posts where we write about the moral and political collapse of the Left.
He appeared to suggest that her opinions fitted in a box that included the Stop the War Coalition, amongst people who, “who sneer at the dull incrementalism of parliamentary social democracy”.
Now I appreciate that Rhea isn’t too concerned about this aspect, but how could I vote for Labour in 2020 anyway? It wouldn’t be the safe or responsible thing to do. I mean – and I know this is stretching the argument – what if Labour actually achieved power? Is anyone seriously suggesting that we vote to empower those that hold the STWC world view, in whole or in part? How might history judge us?
Harry’s Place was not the only critic.
Rhea has written her own account – which should be read.
On Tuesday afternoon, I announced that I was standing for election to represent Labour Party members on its National Executive Committee. My first 24 hours as a candidate were a crash course in why so many are reluctant to put themselves forward. In less than a day I have faced racist and sexist abuse through social media, directed to both my family and me, been smeared by Tory blogs, and had senior figures in my own party attack me unfairly.
My day got worse from here. The right wing blog Guido Fawkes then picked up the story. This led to more attention and more hatred on social media. And I presume it was thanks to this coverage that I won the attention of the far-right.
A neo-Nazi blog covered my candidacy. There, I am described as a ‘dirty Zionist Jewess’. The writer has publicised my twitter account and instructed its readers to send Nazi images to me. The comments on the page include photoshopped images of me in a gas chamber. More harrowing still, they have shared my sister’s Twitter handle and suggested that she be targeted too.
This is such pretentious, self serving, martyrdom promoting, precious nonsense. Those of us who have actually been active in the anti-fascist movement, you know actually facing up to fash and driving them off the streets, would find this pathetic. I’ve been targeted for close on a decade by Redwatch – Southern Coast, a neo-Nazi site dedicated to physically targeting anti-fascists for attacks in the street or home or both. People on it have been attacked but we don’t moan. I’ve been attacked but you just put it down to experience.
Those who wish can try to finish this particular line of thought on the original site.
Greenstein added, in response to the suggestion that Rhea should be entitled to a Safe Space that,
Tony Greenstein is currently believed to be appealing against his suspension from the Labour Party.
By contrast how is the labour movement reacting?
Left Futures reports.
GMB condemns antisemitic abuse of centre-left candidate for Labour executive
GMB Scotland today utterly condemned the vile antisemitic abuse suffered by their Glasgow Branch Secretary, Rhea Wolfson, who is standing for a position on the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee (NEC).
A spate of deliberate attacks on social media by Nazi propagandists occurred following confirmation of Rhea’s candidacy and GMB Scotland have said they will bring these hate crimes to the attention of the police, while using every tool at their disposal to flush out the online racists.
Gary Smith, GMB Scotland Secretary, said:
There is no place for anti-Semitism or racism of any kind in our politics or society and Rhea has the total solidarity of her trade union in the face of this vile abuse.
Rhea is a hugely talented and principled activist; a popular and respected member of our union in Scotland and beyond with an established track record of campaigning for social justice and human rights.
We can’t let this hate go unchallenged. What sort of message would that send out to young people of all backgrounds who may want to get involved in making our communities and workplaces more fair, peaceful and prosperous?
GMB Scotland looks after our members and we call on all representatives from across civic society and politics to condemn these hate crimes.”
Like many others who were involved in forming and supporting the Grassroots Alliance when it was set up in 1998 I can say that all this brings back recollections of the response of those hostile to it at the time. *
This piece, which enjoyed cult status in some quarters (though not, for reasons which become immediately clear, amongst those individually singled out), brought us back down memory lane.
WHEN I was first at college, the most romantic and sexy left group on campus was Tariq Ali’s International Marxist Group. They smoked dope, they dropped acid, they bonked, they argued, they partied. When they got militant the blokes all put on denim jackets, tartan scarves and black gloves, and occupied things. And the IMG women were cool, too, divided between free-loving Alexandra Kollontais and Earth Mothers.
The International Socialists (forerunners of the Socialist Workers Party, and political home to Paul Foot) and sections of my own Communist Party were hostile to the IMG. “IMG, IMG, idle sons of the bourgeoisie”, was one little chant that we all enjoyed in those far-off days. Hour after hour we would sit up debating with IMG members the virtues and vices of Ernest Mandel’s critique of the Neither Washington Nor Moscow problematics.
Echoes of this past were ringing in my ears when I read the accounts this week of the attempts by Liz Davies, the ousted Labour candidate for Leeds, to get elected to the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party this autumn. She is part of a slate – the “centre-left” slate, no less – which is canvassing for the votes of ordinary Labour Party members, even as I write. She’s had a very good press for, after all, what is she doing, other than trying to debate, in a party that now stifles debate? Poor Liz.
As always. Nice to see you again, comrades. But “centre-left”? Please.
I should point out that Liz had nothing to do with the IMG whatsoever.
That was before the Web, Twitter, Trolling, and when the likes of Saul and Greenstein could only grind their teeth in their basements amid the smell of damp socks.
At least Aaronovitch could do funnies.
*The Alliance’s founding groups were originally Labour Reform, a centrist democratic group within the Party, and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, the left wing democratic grouping, who subsequently brought in other more left-wing groupings from within the Labour Party. Private talks with trades union representatives to build a broader base had failed on union demands and this initiated the inclusion of a much broader Left group from the grassroots, including Labour Left Briefing and the Editor of Tribune, Mark Seddon. Successful efforts were also made to include the Scottish Left. Wikipedia.
Interviewed on Channel Four News last night Bernard-Henri Lévy, French ‘public intellectual’ is the latest in a long list of figures to have their say on the Labour Party ‘anti-Semitism’ controversy.
He solemnly declared, “something is rotten in the state of the Labour Party”.
The former New Philosopher expressed horror that there was backing for Hamas and Hezbollah – not something, he opined, we see much of in France.
Yes but….Er… (2014)
While awaiting further ex-Cathedra pronouncements, and the pie-throwing actions of Noël Godin here are some things worth recalling about Lévy relevant to the debate about anti-Semitism and the left. For those who wish an overview of the man and his works this, Wikipedia, is a good place to start, although the French version is much, much, better.
Casual attitude Towards Facts.
Lévy’s the Testament de Dieu (1979) is a lengthy, one might without condescension call it a rambling, disjointed diatribe (I have read it believe me) , which argues for the centrality of the Law of Moses at the foundation of human rights.
It was amongst the first of his books to be riddled with errors.
Pierre Vidal-Naquet pointed out (the list is too long to reproduce) that Lévy put the birth of ‘original sin’ on the 7th Day of after the world was created. That is on the day of rest (Monsieur Bernard-Henri Lévy place au « 7e jour » (p. 238) de la création le péché originel. Il faut croire qu’Adam et Ève ont profité du repos du Seigneur ; mais cette précision surprendra les lecteurs de la Genèse ).
More recently, Lévy was publicly embarrassed when his essay De la guerre en philosophie (2010) cited the writings of French “philosopher” Jean-Baptiste Botul.Botul’s writings are actually well-known spoofs, and Botul himself is the purely fictional creation of a living French journalist and philosopher, Frédéric Pagès.
Polemics as History.
L’Idéologie française (1981) is a ‘reading’ of French political history that discovers the origins of its specific form of Fascism in a wide, to say the least, sources. For the author these included most of the founders of French socialism, from Revolutionary Republicans, Marxists, Mutualists to anarchists, the pre-Great War anti-Parliamentary left, blasted for the tiny group known as the le Cercle Proudhon, uniting radicla Monarchists and syndicalists, the 1930s neo-socialist, modernising social democrats, the ‘personalist’ Christian review Esprit (better known today for its ‘anti-totalitarianism’), intellectuals, Bergson was an impulse to racism, and, above all French Communism, as well as better known sources, notably those which were actually fascists, such as Action française, Charles Maurras and company. All of France, to the author, was riddled with anti-antisemitism.
In other words French fascism, and Pétain’s ‘national revolution’ were the product of just about everybody who wrote or was politically active in the inter-war years.
Informed readers will immediately recognise that the book draws on the, also controversial, histories of the origin of the French far-right national revolutionary current by Zeev Sternhell. Sternhell has read the original literature, although amongst many critiques cast doubt on his arguments and sources : Un fascisme imaginaire Jean Sévillia).
It is far from clear that Lévy had more than glanced at the writings he cites. A leaf through the book last night revealed him citing Georges Sorel’s La révolution dreyfusienne (1908). He describes it as a virulent anti-Dreyfusarde tract, hinting at anti-Semitism. In fact the short pamphlet was about the end of the conservative ‘republican aristocracy’ whose unity was shattered by the Affair. This had led to the the political triumph of a ‘social’ republican wing that, Sorel believed, was the occasion for the working class to secure its own autonomous interests.
That aside Lévy may have skimmed one section. Sorel has some harsh words for literary figures (he included Zola in this list) who value more the effect of their literary positions (parti pris) than the positions themselves. These stray lines, we may conjecture, might have seriously rankled Lévy.
The book was roundly criticised, when not laughed at. Amongst those writing hostile reviews figured left-wing firebrands Raymond Aron, Pierre Nora, Immanuel Le Roy Ladurie, and others too numerous to list.
This might be some time back, but we expect this talent for anti-Semitic spotting will be put to use in his interventions about the Labour Party.
Backing for Islamists.
During the 1980s and 90s Bernard-Henri Lévy was more than a literary supporter of the Afghan Islamists’ fight against the Communists and their Soviet backers. His most celebrated, by himself and no doubt others (including President Chirac) was his involvement with ‘Commander’ Massoud’s faction of the Mujaheddin (the depth and reality of that acquaintance remains contested).
Massoud became an enemy of the Taliban, but was far from a liberal: his call to arms began against the Communist PDPA, well before the Soviet intervention. No doubt a case could be made that he was a “good Islamist’, but he was part of that mouvance, as the name of his original group, Jamiat-i Islam, indicates. (see Quand les djihadistes étaient nos amis. BHL en Afghanistan ou « Tintin au Congo » ?). He was, for those who backed the Mujahideen, above all anti-Soviet. It would be interesting, nevertheless, to know if Lévy asked his friend about the group’s attitude towards Israel….
A comparison might be made with those ‘anti-imperialists’ who suddenly found a great deal of virtue in the Islamic ‘resistance’ to the American occupation of Afghanistan.
Bernard-Henri Lévy and Human Rights
This question is often asked: Why Does Everyone Hate Bernard-Henri Lévy? ( )
Whole books have been dedicated to criticising the man, his works and his actions (Le B.A. BA du BHL, Enquête sur le plus grand intellectuel français, de la journaliste Jade Lindgaard. Une imposture française, ouvrage des journalistes Nicolas Beau et Olivier Toscer 2006. Un nouveau théologien de Daniel Bensaïd, 2008.)
Bernard-Henri Lévy is in short, often a figure of fun. Many of those who enjoy French language polemical literature are keenly aware of the pitfalls of taking his language too seriously. Sometimes the ‘public intellectual’s’ views are more widely shared – he is opposed to the nationalist enthusiasm for ‘sovereigntism’; he can – sometimes – make stirring speeches against racialism. Sometimes they are not: the claim that religious dogma is the bedrock of human rights cannot be sustained.
People are entitled to be wary of somebody whose chief object is more often to impress than to convince. His occasional ability to rise above phrase-mongering does not translate well – a quick look at Sartre: The Philosopher of the 20th Century by Bernard–Henri Levy (Le siècle de Sartre, 2000) may put people off the French political and intellectual pamphleteering for life. The contorted syntax faithfully reproduces the original – which just about lumbers along in French. The florid expressions could serve as a template for a factory of purple patches.
The contrast between his clumsy, hammering, style and the lucid writings of other modern French political essayists – I cite a few I’ve read recently, all from different political sides, Alain Finkielkraut, Emmanuel Todd, Jean Birnbaum – is startling.
Bernard-Henri Lévy is also politically – a rhetorician who aspires to the court of power. Sarkozy indulged him; Hollande appears to keep him at a distance. To the wider public he is often out to make a case effectively, to convince us with a skilful show, and less positively, a person who trades in bombast.
That his words may, to evoke Sartre’s images, serve as a sword, as pistols, is, post-Libya, possibly true. That these are used in the service of justice is less than clear.
A principled politics of human rights does not involve backing for groups like the Mujahidin, or, more recently, unbridled enthusiasm for Western interventions everywhere, from Syria to Libya. It means supporting people, not states and certainly not posing as a political player in armed efforts to impose rights.
It is our hope that we are not about to endure another bout of Lévy’s histrionics, at the expense of the British Labour Party.
Zombie Labour Catastrophe.: Say Today’s Euston Manifesto Supporters.
Younger readers of this Blog, not to mention anybody not up on the last decade of so’s history of the British left may not know what a ‘Eustonite‘ is.
The term comes from the Euston Manifesto of 2006.
There people were particularly associated with the statement, Norman Geras, Marxist scholar; Damian Counsell; Alan Johnson, editor of Democratiya; and Shalom Lappin. Other members include Nick Cohen of The Observer, who co-authored with Geras the first report on the manifesto in the mainstream press; Marc Cooper of The Nation; Francis Wheen, a journalist; and historian Marko Attila Hoare. (see complete list).
This declaration included many statements which, at first sight, the democratic socialist left would agree with.
We defend liberal and pluralist democracies against all who make light of the differences between them and totalitarian and other tyrannical regimes. But these democracies have their own deficits and shortcomings. The battle for the development of more democratic institutions and procedures, for further empowering those without influence, without a voice or with few political resources, is a permanent part of the agenda of the Left.
The values and goals which properly make up that agenda — the values of democracy, human rights, the continuing battle against unjustified privilege and power, solidarity with peoples fighting against tyranny and oppression — are what most enduringly define the shape of any Left worth belonging to.
As can be seen these general principles were vague enough, or more charitably, broad enough, to embrace just about the whole of the liberal and democratic socialist left,.
But a great deal of fire was aimed at the supposed opposite, the “non-democratic left”, and more broadly the organised forces of those who opposed US-led military adventures in the Middle East.
This was stated clearly in the Manifesto’s introduction,
We reach out, rather, beyond the socialist Left towards egalitarian liberals and others of unambiguous democratic commitment. Indeed, the reconfiguration of progressive opinion that we aim for involves drawing a line between the forces of the Left that remain true to its authentic values, and currents that have lately shown themselves rather too flexible about these values.
How could this line be drawn?
This was a sticky point,
The manifesto takes no position on the invasion of Iraq. However some of its most prominent contributors, including Nick Cohen and the proprietors of the left-wing blog Harry’s Place, supported the invasion. Of the manifesto’s principal authors, two were broadly against the war and two broadly in support. Of eight people advertised as attending a Euston Manifesto Group meeting at the 2006 Labour Party Conference, six supported the Iraq War. One of these, Gisela Stuart MP, declared during the 2004 American presidential election that a victory by challenger John Kerry victory would prompt “victory celebrations among those who want to destroy liberal democracies”.
In practice this meant making a distinction between those who actually did something to oppose the War and those, either who supported the invasion or whose reservations were too qualified for them to join with the morally “flexible” – read undemocratic, read ‘totalitarian’ – left.
On that left, comrade Paul Flewers stated at the time (Accommodating to the Status Quo. A Critique of the Euston Manifesto). (1)
There is plenty that is wrong with the far left. But these problems did not start with Respect’s dalliances with sundry dubious Islamic individuals and organisations. Over the decades sections of the far left have adapted to various anti-democratic and anti-working-class forces in an attempt to overcome isolation or to gain an ally against the ruling class. Left-wing groups have long engaged in all manner of squalid petty manoeuvres, and one need not dwell for long upon their internal regimes to recognise their manipulative and undemocratic nature. This is both demoralising, as it corrupts the fight for socialism, and self-defeating, as it has deterred many people from engaging with the left and demoralised many people who did get involved.
His conclusion is relevant today,
The Eustonites aim almost all their fire to their left, condemning what they see as the left’s dalliances with anti-democratic forces, and in so doing effectively lumping in everyone to their left in that basket. A lot of people on the left are in fact quite happy to oppose the ruling class without lining up with assorted mullahs, sundry nationalists and all sorts of other anti-working-class forces. There is plenty of scope for socialists to oppose imperialism without giving a carte blanche to Islamicism or other non-socialist outlooks, just as there was a space for genuine socialists 50 years ago to promote genuine freedom between the opposing millstones of imperialism and Stalinism.
There are real problems with the left’s traditions, not least in respect of the question of the relationship of socialism and democracy, and it is one of many issues that we must critically assess if we are to make any progress in proposing a positive alternative to capitalism. However, just like the Encounter socialists half a century ago, those behind the Euston Manifesto are not attempting to provide any meaningful alternative to capitalism. Quite the opposite: they are moving in an entirely different direction. Far from providing a positive course to challenge the status quo, the Euston Manifesto is outlining an approach for a broad ideological and institutional capitulation to it.
Those of us who hold to the strong ethical principles of socialism have little need to defend our record since that time: we have given active support for the democratic goals of the Arab Spring, backing for democratic and secular forces fighting Islamism, defence of Laïcité.
Sometimes we, the democratic socialists, been on the same side as former or present Eustonites, against those who have compromised with our Islamist enemies.
But we are socialists not liberals.
Democratic socialism is the base of the labour movement. It is not a set of ideas shared by the supporters of free-market liberalism, or Blair’s Third Way.
This offers no prospect of emancipation or the ambitious task of reforming and replacing the institutions of the British privatising state and promoting the basic goals of social equality and welfare.
It would be perhaps better to define the present shape of Euston thinking as social liberalism, not any form of socialism or social democracy. But in attempting to find a balance between individual liberty and social justice, they offer absolutely no indication of what kind of social equity they support, what kind of egalitarian measures they would back, and why exactly the present Labour leadership has become such an important threat, even totalitarian menace, to those battling for freedom, here and internationally.
The attempt to draw a ‘line’ – of their own making – has reached a crescendo over the last months with today’s Eustonites’ obsessive fight against Jeremy Corbyn.
The Gerasites (doubtless claiming the legacy of the – despite disagreements one might have with his later views – fine Marxist thinker Norman Geras), look at last week’s election result.( Zombie Labour. Jake Wilde)
….the Labour Party as “the walking dead, aimlessly trundling on, a parody of political life” is as accurate as it is brutal. Like all good writing, it got me thinking. Firstly about the counterfactual: what if it had been a wipeout, a disaster, a game-changer? And secondly where does this zombie Labour Party stagger off to next.
The people keeping Corbyn in the leadership position are those who would view any attempt to move towards the electorate as a betrayal. They firmly believe that it is for the electorate to realise that the policies, the slogans and the general attitude and positioning they are being offered by Corbyn’s Labour Party are objectively correct. This is why there has been no attempt to gauge the views of the electorate during the run-up to 5 May. Indeed the only polling that has been undertaken is blowing the whole £300,000 budget on asking questions of non-voters.
But no heavy defeat occurred, simply the worst performance of any opposition party for three decades. Once the far left have control of something there is only one outcome – that thing dies. Whether it is a country or a city council, a newspaper or a political party, death is inevitable. It’s not always the put-it-in-a-box-and-bury-it-in-the-ground kind of dead though; sometimes it is Ian Dunt’s walking dead. So even before 5 May the Labour Party was already dead but, like so many zombies, it doesn’t know it yet.
…the results on 5 May mean that the Corbynistas were the ones who hung on and the Labour Party is now past the point of resurrection.
Harry’s Place thought so highly of this piece that they have reproduced it.
All we can say is: look at the picture above before you continue with these witless rants.
(1) See also Sparks, flashes and damp squibs. Andrew Coates reviews Nick Cohen’s What’s left? How liberals lost their way (Fourth Estate, 2007)
In fact many on the left have rejected those who wish to be aligned with islamism. Leftist websites and journals have ferociously criticised Respect’s communalist alliance with islamism, as well as mocking Galloway’s antics. Cohen cites Mike Marqusee’s widely circulated critique of the STWC, but ignores the fact that Mike continues to attack the American occupation. Many others have followed this dual track.
A central issue at the moment is to oppose potential American intervention in Iran, while supporting the opponents of the theocrats in Tehran. Another is the domestic cause of republican secularism – the best answer to religiously inspired political bigotry. None of which is helped by lumping ‘the left’ into a heap, or by standing aside, as does the Euston Manifesto (many of whose hands are less than clean with their implicit support for western militarism).