14 March 2016

Gerry Downing, Anti-Semitism and the Socialism of Fools

Confusing the Jewish Question and Zionism

It was August Bebel, the leader of the German Social Democratic Party who described anti-Semitism as the ‘socialism of fools’.  Gerry Downing is nothing if not a fool.  A complete muddlehead leading a tiny Trotskyist group Socialist Fight.
The BBC made hay with Gerry Downing's idiocy
Downing entered into the headlines last week when he was cited by David Cameron in Question Time in the House of Commons I believe Socialist Fight is one of the splinters resulting from the implosion of the Workers Revolutionary Party of Vanessa Redgrave fame.
Abram Leon - author of The Jewish Question - a Marxist Interpretation - which Downing willfully misunderstands
It is an organisation that is causing much amusement to the Right.  However his defence or ‘understanding’ of Al Quada’s 9/11 attacks and the actions of ISIS are anything but amusing.  Downing’s playing with anti-Semitism is also no joke.  His actions have been used to discredit the wider left. 
Gerry Downing floundering with Andrew Neil
Downing, who has probably been somewhat taken aback at all the publicity his tiny sect has garnered, has mounted his own defence against the attacks from the capitalist media, Guido Fawkes, Cameron et al.  [Statement by Gerry Downing in reply to the Guido Fawkes / Cameron attack on the Labour Party and on me personally] 

Downing is fond of quoting Baruch Spinoza who said that “I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them.”
There is, of course, nothing at all wrong in understanding the actions of Al Qaeda or ISIS.  The problem is that Downing’s understanding is both simplistic and wrong.  Therein lies the problem.
Gerry Downing & John MacDonald in better days at a strike meeting
Gerry Downings main point, which is that the horrific massacres and oppression in the Middle East and elsewhere are the result of imperialism’s intervention and presence, is correct.  It is not controversial that the US war in Iraq killed approximately 1 million people.  Nor is it a secret that US and British imperialism supports oppressive regimes like Saudi Arabia, Egypt etc.  Where he goes wrong is in seeing om either Al Qaeda or ISIS any form of anti-imperialist force.
As Hilary Clinton freely admitted, Al Qaeda is a creation of the very US imperialism that Downing opposes.  That in itself should give him pause for thought.  The US deliberately created a fundamentalist Islamic military/political presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan in order to destroy the Soviet presence and the liberal bourgeois regime of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) under Babrak Karmal which had emerged in Afghanistan. 
A weak bourgeois regime had emerged in Afghanistan, overthrowing the previous king.  The USSR stepped in to support this regime and the US and  Britain did their best to put reactionary cut-throats in place, alongside their allies in the ISI intelligence service in Pakistan and the Saudi regime. 

The Taliban and Al Qaeda were the fruit of US imperialism and like Frankenstein’s monster they turned on their benefactor.  But there was and is nothing anti-imperialist about them.  Their politics represent the worst form of medieval savagery.  There is nothing progressive about them – whether it is women’s education, sharia law punishments, workers’ self organisation, the destruction of cultural symbols such as the Buddhist statues of Bamiyan or the Greek-Roman architecture at Palmyra. 

Like the Khmer Rouge these groups are neither fish nor fowl.  They defy political description.  Fascist is a easy shorthand but it isn’t really appropriate because fascism is a product of a modern industrial society where a movement based on a petit bourgeois rabble and lumpen elements are welded into a nationalist force capable of destroying working-class and progressive forces.
The Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIS are modern movements, using modern technology, which are certainly a reaction to imperialism but a reaction of the most politically backward type.  It is akin in some ways to the feudal socialism of anti-Semitic movements like the Christian Social Party of Adolf Stocker.

ISIS for example are known to be controlled militarily by ex-Baathist officers who have adopted Islam as a convenient justification and legitimation for their barbarous rule.  How any socialist can support or ‘understand’, not as a means of analysis but as a form of apology, an organisation which enslaves young Yazidi women, whilst slaughtering all the men and older women, defies belief.  A group which openly uses rape as a weapon of war.  This genocidal group may indeed be a reaction to the US’s imperialist slaughter in Iraq, it may have come into conflict with the US and its sectarian Iraqi regime (although being supported by the Turkish regime), but what type of reaction is it?  Do we support any opposition, however reactionary, to US capitalism?  Would that include the KKK?

The actions of both ISIS and Al Qaeda have, if anything, been detrimental to liberation struggles in the Western Sahara, coming into conflict with Polisario as it attempts to confessionalise their struggles.  Likewise they have been a dire threat to the Tuareg people and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) in Mali, which have come into conflict with Al Qaeda in the Maghreb and local Islamist groups.  Indeed they have been responsible for poisoning the struggle of the Syrian people against Assad.

It is no accident that Israel is known to support al-Qaeda's al-Nusra in Syria and it is widely suspected of supporting ISIS and is known to be the largest purchaser of ISIS's oil wells.  Opposing Zionism is not on the agenda of ISIS or Al-Qaeda.

But it isn’t just Socialist Fight and Gerry Downing’s attitude to ISIS and Al Qaeda.  It is their barking attitude to what they term ‘the Jewish Question’.  In his Why Marxists must address the JewishQuestion concretely today Downing cites the classic Marxist tract ‘The Jewish Question – A Marxist Interpretation’ by Abram Leon, the leader of the Fourth International in Belgium, who died in Auschwitz, .  Downing states that:

The Jewish bourgeois were exceptionally well-suited for capitalist success because the social role of Jews as commodity-traders, and later money-traders and lenders: a ‘people-class’ in the phrase of Abram Leon, the great Belgian-Jewish Marxist theorist of the Jewish question, in medieval Europe prior to the emergence of capitalism, gave them the cultural advantage of a much older tradition in commodity economy than the ‘native’ ruling classes.”

Much of the above is arguable.  Did Jewish bankers have any more formidable advantages than those of Lombardy or Venice?  Were the Jewish bourgeoisie any more advantaged than the merchants of the City of London or the French Huguenots?  I doubt it.  What is certain is that a separate Jewish bourgeoisie, whose most famous representative was the Jewish financier and philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore, disappeared in the 19th century.  As Leon noted:

‘The economic process from which the modern nations issued laid the foundations for integration of the Jewish bourgeoisie into the bourgeois nation.' (p.116, Jewish Question - A Marxist Interpretation)

Downing’s remark that ‘Zionism is the cutting edge of bourgeois reaction today’ is unexceptional.  There is no doubt that Zionist organisations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) or Christians United for Israel are the most hawkish groups in terms of foreign policy.  In this they are allied with the neo-conservatives who dominated the Bush cabinet and who are fretting at Trump gaining the Republican nomination.

Likewise Downing’s statement that ‘The role Zionists have played in the attempted witch-hunt against Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership campaign is glaringly obvious.’  cannot be doubted.  But this was a Zionist witchhunt not a Jewish one.  The Daily Mail initiated it and MPs like John Mann perpetrated it.  Mann is not Jewish, but he is a devoted Zionist.

Quite what the long gone Jewish Question (which was as much a problem with anti-Semitism) has to do with the role of Zionism is somewhat of a mystery.  Downing points out that 80% of Tory MP’s supported the Conservative Friends of Israel in the last parliament and that ‘leading figures in Labour like Ed Miliband and Ed Balls are involved with Labour Friends of Israel.  All this is true but most Tory MPs are not Jewish.  Likewise most LFI sponsors.  Ed Miliband, who is Jewish was far less sympathetic to Zionism than Ed Balls, who is not Jewish.

It is when Downing asserts that Zionism’s ‘supporters are highly conscious ethnocentric activists with a material base in terms of capitalist property, within the ruling classes of several imperialist countries, as well as Israel.  This caste has acquired major moral and political influence among much wider layers of the imperialist bourgeoisie. If this were not true, Zionists could not have the influence they do in the current situation.’ that Downing abandons Marxism and adopts anti-Semitism.

Zionism’s supporters are President Hollande of France and his Prime Minister Manuel Valls who are waging war on France's BDS movement.  They are David Cameron and John Hagee.  The supporters of Zionism and the racist Israeli state include both Jewish and non-Jewish politicians and capitalists.  It has nothing whatsoever to do with a transnational Jewish bourgeoisie.  This reeks of the Jewish Conspiracy Theory.  There is absolutely no evidence that the non-Jewish  bourgeoisie of Britain, the United State or France is engaged in a battle with the Jewish bourgeoisie.  This is fantasy land stuff.  

The problem is that the ruling elites in all the aforementioned countries support the Israeli state and attack anti-Zionists and the supporters of the Palestinians as ‘anti-Semites’.  That is why, in his interview on the BBC with Andrew Neil, Gerry Downing was, to put it mildly, left spluttering and inarticulate, since he knew deep down that what he was arguing made no sense from a Marxist or communist perspective.

That is the price of allowing Ian Donovan, who was excluded from the Communist faction of Left Unity and an open supporter of Gilad Atzmon into his organisation.  There is no Marxist or materialist analysis which explains the support for Zionism of Western bourgeois politicians and their acolytes in terms of a Jewish ethnic presence or lobby.  This is indeed the socialism of fools and idiots.

It is ironic that in the United States, the unexpected victory of the only Jewish candidate, Bernie Sanders, in the Michigan primary, was partly due to the overwhelming support for Sanders in the city of Dearborn, where 40% of the inhabitants are Muslim and Arab Americans.  [Muslim Voters Support Bernie Sanders in Michigan – Mass Media Can’t Work Out How to Explain This]

It should give even Gerry Downing pause for thought!

Tony Greenstein

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