Thursday, 22 October 2020

Richard Seymour’s Journey to the Right Continues As He Abandons Class whilst Glorifying the Attractions of Fascism

 Firstly it was ‘unconscious anti-Semitism’ that was Labour’s problem now we have a rewriting of the fight against German fascism

One of the iron rules of left politics is that refugees from the SWP’s internal regime almost invariably move to the right. So it is with Richard Seymour. The politico-psychological reasons for this I will leave to others. The sense of political freedom that comes from not having to pay lip service to a particular political line perhaps? Or maybe the stress of having to pretend that some organisation or other is really a genuine manifestation of the popular will rather than an SWP front group no doubt takes its toll.

Richard Seymour - is he the Guardian's replacement for the ever insipid Owen Jones? 

Richard Seymour who has had his Lenin’s Tomb blog since 2003 became a licensed critic within the SWP. Just as Kremlinologists became adept at reading between the lines of official Soviet pronouncements in order to gauge which way the wind was blowing, so some of us became adept at reading between the lines of Seymour’s blog.

The ideal German family in 1937

It all exploded in 2013 with the SWP’s rape scandal when women who accused the National Secretary, Martin Smith (Comrade Delta!) of rape and sexual assault found themselves under attack. At a kangaroo court, (Disputes Committee) they found themselves being questioned about their sexual history and they found themselves becoming the accused. The nearly all women Committee (the only the male member, Pat Stack dissented) cleared Smith and convicted the women of defaming an upstanding Central Committee member. They were even barred from the emergency conferences which discussed what had happened to them and other women (including a friend of mine) who were victimised and dismissed from their jobs with the party. All under the benevolent gaze of Kings College's Professor Alex Callinicos. This was the catalyst for Richard Seymour and hundreds of others to resign from the SWP. 

Jews in Stuttgart being marched to the deportation trains in 1941

Seymour, like many others was enthused by the election of Jeremy Corbyn as he wrote The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics.

In April 2016, a month after I was suspended and as the witchhunt was just getting going Richard wrote a remarkably perceptive article Pitch forks at the ready in which he wrote of the ‘dishonesty, hypocrisy and malice’ of the attacks ‘which is more redolent of a McCarthyite inquisition than a real debate.’

Which of course was absolutely correct. Ken Livingstone had just been suspended for supporting Naz Shah’s meme about how it would be so much cheaper if Israel was transferred to the United States. Seymour wrote that

‘it is a grave mistake for anyone to either quietly condone the suspension [of Livingstone] out of a misguided sense of realpolitik... or vocally support the suspension in the vain hope that throwing one more carcass into the ravening maw of the right-wing mob will placate it... If you rebuke someone, they’ll demand suspension; if you suspend them, they’ll demand expulsion; if you expel them, they’ll wonder why it took you so long to get round to expelling antisemites...’

You cannot win by obeying this logic. And the logic which has been used to condemn Livingstone... will soon enough be turned on others. Corbyn, for example. If Greenstein can be suspended for criticising Zionists, if Bouattia can be vilified for the same, and if Livingstone can be monstered as a “Nazi apologist” for referencing actual historical facts, then how long before another round of demonisation of Corbyn on the basis of his supposed ‘connections’ to extremists... Pusillanimity in the face of this kind of inquisition is its own kind of liability. The more you concede, the more you are obliged to concede.... Alan Johnson, doyen of the 'antitotalitarian left' ... has stated the case very clearly: “Save your pitch fork for Corbyn”

Hotel Silber - former Gestapo HQ in Stuttgart

If Richard had confined himself to this analysis then he would not have gone wrong. But unfortunately, before long he was revising his opinions and trying to find something new to say. This is the problem with left-wing writers who want to keep the eye of editors in the bourgeois media. They end up trimming and cutting.

Two years later I came across Labour’s Antisemitism Affair on America’s Jacobin site. Jacobin is the premier left-wing publication in America for which I had previously contributed Rewriting the Holocaust  about Netanyahu’s attempt to blame the Palestinians for the Final Solution (& thus exonerate Hitler). Now Seymour was hedging his bets. Yes ‘anti-Semitism’ had been weaponised but that was not to say that it did not have some basis.

Crowds Outside Hotel Silber in the 1930s

I wrote that Seymour was

‘mired in the swamp of identity politics… a Jewish identity based around Israel and Zionism, suitably dressed up as a concern with anti-Semitism, is equally as valid as a Palestinian identity based on ethnic cleansing. If Jews can claim that they are oppressed because of hostility to Israel who is going to countermand this? When class and race are removed from the equation who is to decide who is oppressed and who is the oppressor? Everything is subjective and personal. All identities are equally valid, albeit some are more equal than others.’

I observed that

‘People who prize themselves on their detachment from the struggle and who adopt an aloof and condescending attitude to those who are involved in political battles are destined not to hang around for too long.

Unfortunately Richard did not heed my advice that

One of the hallmarks of socialist or left-wing writers is their commitment to the overthrow of the system we live under.  They employ their talents on our behalf not just their own…. People such as John Pilger, Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein and Tariq Ali have demonstrated their commitment under fire.  However the Left is also plagued by opportunists and turncoats, fair weather friends and erstwhile socialists like Owen Jones, … Others, like Nick Cohen, simply jack-knifed to the right.  American neo-conservatism is littered with the bodies of ex-leftists…’

There was no attempt by Richard to explain the origins of Labour’s ‘antisemitism’ campaign.  It was if it had appeared by magic.  An example of political spontaneous combustion. The idea of a deliberately co-ordinated and engineered campaign to destabilise Labour didn’t occur to Seymour.  The possibility of state interference completely eluded him. Seymour referred to the famous mural by Mear One, that was used by Luciana Berger to undermine Labour at the 2018 local elections, as being automatically antisemitic. Not once did he ask how a mural, which had been erased for 6 years, had come into prominence just before the 2018 local elections.  That, and only that, was the issue.

Hotel Silber in the 1930s

When talking about Livingstone’s remark that Hitler supported Zionism, Seymour changed his tune. No longer was it the case that ‘at worst he made a clumsy attempt to say something that is true.’ Now Seymour was of the opinion that Ha'avara, the Transfer Agreement between the Zionists and the Nazi state, was not so much a case of  Hitler ‘ “supporting” Zionism so much as using every expedient to expel Jews from Germany.’

But this was not true. Ha'avara was agreed to by the Nazis as a means of undermining the Jewish led Boycott of Nazi Germany. For a time the Nazi government, at the behest of the Zionists, forbade Jews going anywhere but Palestine. The Gestapo acceded to the Zionist demands that those taking advantage of Ha’avara should only go to Palestine.  Seymour git all of this horribly wrong. German Jews could always take their money out of the country. True there were massive confiscatory taxes which only got worse but Ha’avara made it worse, not better for Jews seeking to emigrate.

The Communist Party of Germany

According to the American Jewish Yearbook less than one in 7 of the nearly 450,000 German and Austrian Jews who got out went to Palestine (60,000) and that is larger than most estimates. Ha’avara was about the richest Jews, who could have gone elsewhere, not poor and working class Jews.

Nor is it true that the Nazis didn’t support the Zionist movement.  They did, vociferously, against the 98% of German Jews who were not Zionists. When the Nazis arrested thousands of Jews after Kristallnacht, orders came the next day from Heydrich that Zionist Jews were to be released immediately.  Zionist historian David Cesarani wrote describing how ‘The efforts of the Gestapo are oriented to promoting Zionism as much as possible and lending support to its efforts to further emigration.” (my emphasis) [The Final Solution (p.96)] Lucy Dawidowicz described how, on 28th January 1935, Reinhardt Heydrich issued a directive stating that

‘the activity of the Zionist-oriented youth organizations … prior to their emigration to Palestine lies in the interest of the National Socialist state’s leadership.’ These organisations therefore ‘are not to be treated with that strictness that it is necessary to apply to the members of the so-called German-Jewish organizations (assimilationists)’.  [Lucy Dawidowicz, War Against the Jews, pp.118]

Dr Joseph Mengele - the 'angel of death' fled to Paraguay and died in Brazil - Israel refused to call for his extradition as that would have upset relations with both these countries

Seymour accused Jackie Walker, by attending the ‘training session’ of the Jewish Labour Movement on anti-Semitism, of waging a ‘factional war’.  Seymour describes her comment that Holocaust Day was not “open to all people who experienced a holocaust.” as wrong. In fact Seymour was wrong. The holocaust in the Belgian Congo and Namibia are excluded as are all genocides before 1939. 

One unfortunate characteristic of Seymour is that he tends to pontificate about subjects he knows nothing about. For example Seymour quoted uncritically from a survey by the far-Right Campaign Against Antisemitism without asking whether it was designed to produce certain outcomes.

In Analysis: British Jewry and a feeling of insecurity Jonathan Boyd, Executive Director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research described the CAA’s findings as being ‘based on a survey with little, if any, methodological credibility.’  Boyd described the finding that 45% of British people were anti-Semitic as a ‘deeply flawed read of the data’. The IJPR found the CAA's survey to be 'littered with flaws' and 'irresponsible'. Due to 'quite basic methodological flaws and weaknesses', its poll of British Jews had 'very limited capacity' to assess the representativeness of its sample.

Seymour quoted uncritically the CAA's findings without probing deeper.  Even the Zionist Community Security Trust’s Dave Rich wasn’t so superficial.  He observed that:

Nazi pageantry to hypnotise the masses

‘This latest poll showed something else that is interesting… that people who believe antisemitic things about Jews rarely think of themselves as antisemitic…. It is as if antisemitic ideas circulate in society and influence the stereotypes people believe about Jews, but this does not affect how people imagine they relate to actual, living Jews who they know or might meet…. Even people who believe there is a global Jewish conspiracy or deny the Holocaust are affronted by the notion they might be antisemitic. What antisemites really think

The CAA claimed that more than half of British Jews felt that anti-Semitism echoed that of the 1930s. Anshel Pfeffer in Ha'aretz observed that if the CAA believed that “then it’s hard to take anything they say about contemporary anti-Semitism in their home country seriously.” Pfeffer noted, regarding the statement that Jews talk about the Holocaust too much in order to gain sympathy:  “too many Jews … are often too quick to bring up the Holocaust in order to make a point. … Holding that opinion doesn’t necessarily make you an anti-Semite.”  In other words a number of the anti-Semitic stereotypes were not anti-Semitic!

There were other indications that Seymour was writing in complete ignorance of what he was writing about. He described Gary Spedding, a Walter Mitty character, as a ‘Jewish left-winger’ citing his article We in the Palestinian Solidarity Movement Have a Problem With anti-Semitism.

If Seymour had been following my blog then he would have read my articles Gary Spedding - The Zionist Cuckoo in the Palestine Solidarity NestGary Spedding Calls in the Police - I have been harassing him!Gary Spedding – the Self-Proclaimed Expert on ‘anti‑Semitism’ and Jewish Voices for Labour Expels Gary Spedding & its Zionist wing (or some of them) - after much Blood, Sweat & Bile. However Seymour knew nothing about Spedding other than he was always happy to provide a rent-a-quote.

Spedding is not Jewish (nor is he left-wing, he is a former member of the Alliance Party in Northern Ireland) although that doesn’t prevent him telling Jews just what is and is not antisemitic. Spedding is not a Palestine solidarity activist and his claims to that effect are widely derided. He has no involvement with any Palestine solidarity organisation. He has been an avid supporter of the witchhunt and confessed to breaking down with tears of joy when I was expelled. Like most SWP exiles Seymour is trying to find a progressive space between the politics he once espoused and the SWP's right-wing critics. 

The KPD's Red Front Fighters Paramilitary Group - Banned by the SPD Government in 1929

Seymour has surpassed himself with his latest article The masses against the masses on German fascism. It can be read on the blog of Jewish Voices for Labour who, for some strange reason, decided to republish it.  When I went to the Patreon site, where it originated, I was asked for my credit card! Not only Rupert Murdoch operates behind a pay wall.

He begins as he continues telling us that 

It’s too easy to be antifascist on the molar level, and not even see the fascist inside you, the fascist you yourself sustain and nourish and cherish with molecules both personal and collective.”

The fascist inside you is an interesting concept. It is as if fascism is some kind of pathology that we are all infected with.  It mirrors the Zionist claim that anti-Semitism is a ‘virus’.  If what Seymour meant to say was that all of us have contradictory sides to us, that socialists can be oppressors on the personal level, then that is true but it is a product of living in a class society. 

Irony is sometimes lost on the Socialist Workers Party

Seymour writes that 

there was not a huge gap between the “Wild-frei” gangs, with their Dionysian sexual rituals – many of whom would join the Nazis – and the insolent SS boys who loved to strut about in their leather, and the girls who went into paroxysms of excitement when the stormtroopers showed up. 

I don’t know about the orgasmic excitement of the Fräulein but I can’t think of a more absurd comparison than between repressed Nazi sexuality and Dionysus, the Greek god of sensuality and hedonism as opposed to the austere Apollo and the Nazi ideal of youth: '"swift as a greyhound, as tough as leather, and as hard as Krupp's steel."

If Seymour knew anything about the Nazis and sexuality he would know about the disturbed, repressed, mysoginist and sadistic sexuality of the SS with their leather fetish. He might also care to acquaint himself with Richard Evans The Coming to Power of the Third Reich [p. 375] and the raid on Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science on 5 May 1933. The National Socialist Student League and then the SS destroyed and burnt thousands of books, documents and photographs in this world famous centre.  Fortunately Hirschfeld himself was abroad. The Institute was a champion of homosexuality, women's sexual freedom including abortion.  It stood for everything that the Nazis hated.

In his follow-up book, The Third Reich in Power [pp. 205-6] Evans describes the subversive power of jazz and swing and their attractions to the youth and how:

‘the free-and-easy social mixing of Jews, half-Jews and non-Jews in the social scene of the swingers was crassly at odds with the dictates of the regime’s racial policy. What had begun as an act of adolescent cultural wilfulness was rapidly becoming a manifestation of political protest.’

Annette Dumbach and Jud Newborn describe how, in 1936, 1,500 German youth had organised to attack Hitler Youth leaders at night. Likewise in Munich a group calling itself Red Anchor formed to attack anyone in the Hitler Youth. These groups had spread to Berlin and Cologne and in Leipzig two 17 year olds were sentenced to 3 years hard labour when the Gestapo caught them. [Sophie Scholl and the White Rose, p.39]

Of all this Seymour is blissfully unaware yet the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism capitalised on this image of Nazis as austere and disciplined when they coined the slogan NF=No Fun. We painted the National Front as austere and censorious.

Seymour went on to quote Daniel Guérin, who concluded after a visit to Germany that fascism

“surged forth from the depths of the German people. It’s because of its popular appeal that it was irresistible, that it swept everything else away;’

Seymour commented that ‘Somehow the masses had come to desire fascism.’ A quite amazing observation that is at variance with the facts. Seymour says that this led many of Guerin’s readers ‘to suspect he had lost his marbles.’ The same observation could be made about Seymour.

However I prefer to believe that Guerin simply changed his mind as his Fascism and Big Business is well worth reading,

It is true that Hitler’s main base of support was among the petit-bourgeoisie, the middle-class and the peasants but the working class remained impervious to his attractions.

What is really unforgivable is that in order to prove his point Seymour simply resorts to distortion. He writes that ‘between 1928 and 1933, the Nazis had added 16.5 million votes to their support.’

Either Seymour is ignorant or he is deceiving his readers. The March 1933 election was not free. Coming after the Reichstag fire it was held under a state of terror. Despite this the Nazis only got 44% of the vote and the KPD and SPD retained over 12 million votes.

Seymour omits to mention the two 1932 elections. He resembles another falsifier of history, Daniel Goldhagen and his Hitler’s Willing Executioners which held that Germans, all Germans, were eliminationist murderers. [see David North’s A critical review of Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners

In July 1932 37.3% (13.75m) supported the Nazis compared to the 13.24m (35.9%) vote for the workers’ parties. However in November 1932 the Nazi vote fell to 11.74m (33.09%). The combined vote for the workers’ parties 13.2 million (37.3%) was one and a half million more than the Nazis’. By November 1932 the Nazis had passed the peak of their popular support.

Seymour misses these complexities because it would ruin his bankrupt thesis about the mass attraction of fascism. It was precisely because the Nazis were losing support and the fierce opposition to them by Germany's workers that the military and industrialists put Hitler in power.

But for Stalin's Third Period dating from the 6th Congress of the Comintern in 1928, in which reformist parties were termed ‘social fascist’, and the refusal to form united fronts with workers who supported social democracy, Hitler could have been defeated. The KPD was under Stalin’s thumb and Stalin was happy to see Hitler coming to power as a way of dividing the western powers. The KPD stupidly followed the foreign policy demands of Stalin rather than the needs of the German working class. But Seymour has other, somewhat more right-wing fish to fry.

Seymour writes that

‘Millions were infected by volkisch, racial-nationalist ideas, long before Hitler was even a clamorous, minatory nuisance in the fringes of the German Right.’

In fact volkish organisations had declined in number in the Weimar period.  Hitler and the Nazis played down anti-Semitism to the point of invisibility in the run-up to the 1933 elections. As Raul Hilberg wrote anti-Semitism in Germany ‘never became altogether respectable or truly prevalent.’ [The Goldhagen Phenomenon, p.723]

Ian Kershaw wrote that the millions of extra votes in the 1930 elections ‘‘were in no sense anti-Semites’. [Popular Opinion and Dissent, p.230] Zionist historian David Cesarani stated that Hitler’s attacks on Jews ‘diminished to vanishing point.’ in the run up to the 1933 elections yet Seymour, whether out of design or ignorance, chooses to portray the German population as thoroughly anti-Semitic.

Seymour speaks of ‘a broad popular consensus favouring core elements of the fascist agenda.’ This is BBC history. Seymour writes that in the 1933 elections

‘the Nazis had a clear plurality in all but two constituencies. Moreover, it’s clear that on top of the Nazis’ 44 per cent of the vote, millions of centrist and conservative voters were willing to accept a dictatorship against the Left.’

Actually this is not true. The Catholic Centre Party and Bavarian Peoples Parties were dissolved by Hitler in July, just before the Pope agreed a Concordat with the Nazis in which he agreed that the Church would abstain from politics.

Seymour writes that his ‘version of events hasn’t been tenable for a long time.’ Well not amongst socialist historians but amongst the Neil Fergusons and Andrew Roberts I imagine that Seymour will receive a warm welcome! Seymour quotes Zionist historian Otto Dov Kulka

in the run up to the Nuremberg Laws (1935) and Kristallnacht (1938), the Nazi leadership was being pressured to act by violent demonstrations and pogroms.

and that ‘most disturbing is the role that a large, radicalised minority played in catalysing the regime’s offensive against Jews.’ as well as a ‘mass hysteria about Jewish “race defilers” This is simply not true.  He himself recounts this was called a ‘mass psychosis’ by a member of the Gestapo. Nearly all these riots and pogroms were by members of the SA and SS. Seymour informs his readers that

‘the same pattern of agitation occurs before and during Kristallnacht. The regime radicalised its base with intense propaganda, who in turn catalysed and consolidated the regime’s agenda.’

This is rubbish. The majority of Germans, including even members of the Nazi Party, were revolted by the SA pogroms of November 9-10 1938. The same Otto Dov Kulka wrote about how a Gestapo situation report after Kristallnacht reported how ‘the Communists declared their solidarity with the Jews’ and how this had found ‘eager support in middle-class and especially clerical circles.’ [‘Public Opinion’ in Nazi Germany and the ‘Jewish Question’, p. 140].

Kershaw wrote of his

admiration for the courageous minority – overwhelmingly communist workers – who fought uncompromisingly against the Nazis…the vast proportion of them workers’ were put in ‘protective custody’ [Popular Opinion, p.71]

 Of Germany’s workers Seymour says nothing because it doesn’t accord with his narrative and in any case he clearly hasn’t read around the subject.

Kershaw wrote of Germans’ hostile attitude to Kristallnacht despite ‘the conditions of extreme terror and intimidation in which people live.’ (p.271) According to Seymour civil society was terrorised but that it was also an instrument in terror. ‘The masses were deployed against the masses.’

Kulka wrote of how ‘in some places the police stepped in to halt acts of terror only after the maltreatment of Jews aroused spontaneous popular opposition.’  What is Seymour’s take on this?

‘the tumult, in which cops were frequently called “Jewish lackeys” if they intervened, risked causing a rift with police who had thus far been smoothly integrated into the Third Reich.’

Seymour writes of how

‘the consensus behind the Nazi regime did not fall apart, according to Ian Kershaw, until the middle of the war when it became clear that Hitler was leading Germany to disaster.’

In conditions of extreme terror, 75,000 communists were placed in concentration camps between 1933 and 1935, of whom thousands were murdered. The idea of consensus seems a particularly strange way to describe what was happening.

The Nazi regime made every effort to inject anti-Semitic poison into the body politic but there is every indication, from the empty cinema halls for its anti-Semitic films that they were unsuccessful. Even Himmler was forced to admit that every German had his favourite Jew in his October 1943 Posen speeches.

When in 1937 Hitler opened a House of German Art in Munich a contrasting exhibition was held of ‘Degenerate Art’. It was soon closed down as the crowds flocked to it rather than the Aryan Art.

Seymour argues that the popularity of the Nazis was due to the fact that living standards rose. They did for big business and to a lesser extent the middle-class but not the working class with the exception of those working in the armament industries. From 1933 to 1939 wages fell, the number of hours worked rose by 15 per cent, serious accidents in factories increased and workers could be blacklisted by employers if they attempted to question their working conditions. Seymour should consult the GCSE History syllabus!

Seymour is taken  up with ‘the erotic glamour of (fascism’s) organised violence.’ Since Seymour begins his essay with Daniel Guerin’s visit to Germany before the Nazi accession to power, he should also consider what Guerin said in Fascism and Big Business:All ‘anti-fascism’ that rejects it [socialism] is but vain and deceitful babbling.’ (p.13) It is a message that Seymour’s former comrades in the SWP could also take to heart!

It’s not often that I agree with Graeme Atkinson of Searchlight magazine but his comments on the JVL blog were spot on.

‘Richard Seymour’s article is shallow and, sad to say, rather politically uninformed about the class nature of Hitler fascism and German working class’s resistance to it.’

The only mystery is why JVL thought it worth republishing this worthless, reactionary article. JVL seems to be attracted to trendy ex-leftists embarked on the road to the Right.

Tony Greenstein

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