How The Left Does Not Fight Anti-Semitism: Left Modesty

There is one particular response from the Left, when presented with accusations of its own anti-semitism, that is almost liturgical in its repetition. This is the vanity which leads not merely to protestations that the socialist movement has actually opposed anti-semitism, but to the claim that it has consistently been in the vanguard of all such opposition. For instance, John Nolan (letters Socialist Challenge 1.1.81) made the modest claim that "in the struggle against all forms of oppression, including anti-semitism, the I.M.G. and Socialist Challenge have proved themselves to be amongst the best of working class fighters". The Stalinists have made a similar claim about their own organisations. Hyman Lumer in his preface to Lenin On the Jewish Question states that the official Communist Parties "have been the most resolute fighters against all national and racial discrimination and oppression". The sect may change, but the catechism remains the same!

Enough has already been presented to reveal the misplaced arrogance of this. How could a socialist practice which has internalised so much anti-semitism be in the forefront of resistance to it? However, it is relevant to go beyond this and to criticise much Left practice even on those occasions when it is apparently opposing anti-semitism. The point is that this opposition often, at its best, severely underestimates anti-semitism and, at its worst, is complicit in it by accepting its terms. Either way, it ultimately rests on a refusal to see anti-semitism as an ideology.

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