Criticism of Left Anti-Semitism Plays Into the Hands of Anti-Communists

It will be claimed that this book is in some way echoing the views of the Jewish establishment, which seeks to discredit communism by asserting that the 'extreme Left' is exactly the same as the 'extreme Right' as both are anti-semitic. However such a claim is evasive, in that it does absolutely nothing to explain the substance and persistence of the examples of Left anti-semitism that we have quoted. It simply refuses to look at them.

Likewise, it may well be claimed that focusing on the anti-semitism of the Left only serves to draw attention away from the 'real' enemy—the fascist and Thatcherite Right. Again such a response is trivial, as it simply avoids acknowledging genuine ideological weaknesses on the Left. It is bizarre to expect that a socialist movement which so readily accepts anti-semitism could possible face up to the present offensive by the 'new Right', an offensive that will invoke anti-semitism more and more. Behind all this is an extremely dangerous assumption—namely that historical and contemporary truths should be suppressed in order to avoid further weakening the Left. Such an approach has its roots in the Stalinist tradition of fabrication. The anti-communism of the Jewish establishment and the dangers from the British Right are perfectly obvious. This is why it is necessary to struggle against reactionary ideas both inside and outside the Jewish community.

At the same time, are those of us who are socialists and conscious of our Jewish identity supposed to make concessions to anti-semitism on the Left? Are we supposed to be grateful that the Left has not got a conscious policy of genocide? Is it supposed to make us feel any better that its anti-semitism often operates on a crass, unaware level? If Left anti-semitism is not as 'bad' as Right anti-semitism ... then what perverse criterion should we be using as Jews and as socialists to convince ourselves of this? Would anyone seriously expect women and black people to stop challenging the Left whenever it operates on sexist and/or racist assumptions?

Moreover, the difference between 'Left' and 'Right' is genuinely problematic. It certainly cannot be taken for granted—no more in relation to Jews than with respect to any other matter of social or political life. It would seem absurd to describe Stalinism as 'Left-wing' even though historically it arose within the Bolshevik party. Similarly it is quite absurd to regard the distinction between Left and Right as self-explanatory in a situation where, for example, the National Front can claim the anti-semitism of the early socialist tradition as its own, and where Socialist Worker can print an anti-semitic letter from a known fascist. To define 'Left-wing' in some amorphous way as being 'the struggle against all oppression' is circular and apologetic, given the reality of the anti-semitism of so much Left practice.

Analysis of the Left/Right problematic in relation to anti-semitism does reveal two important differences. Firstly, anti-semitism is intrinsic to Right-wing ideology along with all other forms of reactionary ideas. The ultimate in Right-wing ideology, Nazism, can probably be reduced to anti-semitism. This is, of course, why it is so ironic that the Jewish establishment is constantly moving towards the Right. On the other hand anti-semitism is certainly not intrinsic to the concept of socialism or communism. Otherwise socialists would never struggle against anti-semitism whereas they actually do ... on occasion. Indeed it would be grotesque to suggest, as members of the Jewish Board of Deputies never tire of suggesting, that the entire practice of the Left, on whatever issue, can be seen as expressions of anti-semitism.

The second distinction between anti-semitism on the Right and that on the Left exists on the level of consciousness. Anti-semitism operates on a more or less conscious level on the Right. Historically, there have been periods when anti-semitism has operated on a fairly conscious level on the Left—for instance in England at the time of the Aliens Act and under Stalinism. However, it is doubtful whether the Left could ever produce anything as conscious and as explicit as The Protocols of Zion. This would mean having expressly to abandon the theory of class struggle. In fact today the Left, at least outside Stalinism, seems to be functioning not so much on the basis of consciousness nor even of false-consciousness ... but of unconsciousness.

Formally, the Left has a commitment to struggling against anti-Jewishness. The W.R.P., for instance, constantly proclaims its opposition to anti-semitism. Thus in its editorial in Newsline referring to 'The Money Programme', it stated in bold type:

"The Tories know too that they have a powerful anti-semitic trump-card up their sleeve to replay once again as the most reactionary manifestation of racialism, which is anti-semitism" (9.4.83).

At least this acknowledges the existence and obscene nature of anti-semitism, even though it still perceives it as a political tool rather than having an existence in everyday life. There is no reason to believe that the W.R.P., as an organisation, is not sincere in what it sees as its commitment to fight anti-semitism, and there is no reason to believe that any individual in the W.R.P. is a conscious anti-semite. Unfortunately the anti-semitism of the W.R.P. takes place on an apparently unconscious level. If the W.R.P. took time to consider, it would, hopefully, see that an editorial which claims that a B.B.C. programme was "zionist sponsored" and then goes on to remark that the new chairperson of the a director of the Jewish Chronicle can only lead to one conclusion in its readers' minds, namely that the B.B.C. is itself zionist sponsored—i.e. controlled by zionists. Indeed in the absence of even a mention of the politics of the Jewish Chronicle (a journal whose politics no socialist would wish to defend but which, albeit occasionally, has printed articles critical of zionism), the obvious conclusion is that the B.B.C. is 'Jew sponsored'. Any group which claims to be against anti-semitism should be ultra-vigilant in the imagery it evokes—particularly when it also introduces irrelevant information about the financial interests of individual zionists. Actually, this lack of awareness is both ironic and frightening. The assumption is supposed to be that it is the Left and not the Right which operates on the level of consciousness—at least a consciousness of what it is saying. In relation to anti-semitism it often appears the other way around. Moreover, though it would help marginally, it is ultimately inadequate to argue that all the Left should do is to exercise greater 'editorial vigilance'. It first has to develop a consciousness of the anti-semitism against which it has to be vigilant—starting with its own. It is a tragedy that a movement based on the theory of consciousness has diverged so far from it in its own practice.

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© 1984 Steve Cohen, edited and produced by Libby Lawson and Erica Bunnan.
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