The wretched of the earth: Labour and anti-semitism

How can a party as committed to anti-racism as the Labour Party find itself floundering under accusations of anti-semitism?

There are deeper roots than the obvious incompetence of the current leadership.  The Wretched of the Earth, written in 1961 by Frantz Fanon, is the key Marxist text on colonialism. It identifies two kinds of colony: the first is where the colonial power mainly administers the colony and is relatively easy to oust, think the British in India. The second is where there is a large population of settlers who self-identify as being from the colony.

In this type of colony, the system is upheld by violence and can only be overthrown by a prolonged violent struggle. Fanon argued that violence is essential, colonised peoples will have internalised an inferior status and only by engaging in a violent struggle can they overcome this and overthrow their oppressors. Fanon was living in Algeria when he wrote the book, which very much fit that model of colonialism, the resultant violent liberation struggle is brilliantly portrayed in the film The Battle of Algiers.

In this context it is easy to understand Corbyn and Livingstone’s antipathy towards Israel. In their eyes, Israel is a case of Western settler-colonialism, based on violence, which can only be overthrown by violence, hence their embrace of Hamas. I am sure that Corbyn’s possibly accidental equation of Israel with Isis reflects his underlying beliefs; one is an oppressive colonial regime, the other a Fanon-type liberation movement gone horribly wrong.

Fanon also describes what happens after the overthrow of the colonial government. The former colony can take one of two paths. The first is towards socialism. This has been tried, in places like Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea, but unfortunately hasn’t worked out as well as Fanon imagined. LivingCorb have been faithful to Fanon, generally supporting these regimes.

The other path is where the colonial elite is replaced by a native elite, in Fanon’s words where black replaces white, and things go on much as before in a quasi-colonial state. From the perspective of the peasantry and the lumpen proletariat, this is just as bad as a colonialism. Unfortunately, most former colonies have followed this route, and Fanon’s predictions proved all too prescient.

Let us take Ken Livingstone as a test case. He has always been hostile to Israel, as a follower of Fanon should be. But if we look at a country such as Saudi Arabia through the eyes of a socialist, this is just as bad or worse than Israel. It is misogynist, homophobic, oppresses minorities, has a terrible human rights record, has been accused of genocide in Yemen and so on. Ken’s record here is consistent: he once suggested that the Saudi royal family should be publicly beheaded.

But the problem with Ken is that he has a bizarre, fetishist fascination with the Nazis and Hitler. I think this comes from a mental model which views racism, colonialism, fascism and Nazism being on the same continuum. The Nazi period is almost useless as a historical lesson, a unique set of circumstances gave rise to “a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime” in the words of Churchill.

Before and since the Nazis, there have tragically been too many incidents of genocide, but the Nazis were a special case, in a league of their own and hopefully will always stay that way. But in Ken’s eyes they are just a more extreme form of colonialism and so, of course, would have had a meeting of minds with Zionism at some point, according to him this happened in the 1930s. Hitler considered ethnically cleansing German Jews and dumping them in Palestine, as this would have been as good a place as any. For Ken, this makes Hitler a Zionist as a matter of historical record.

Interestingly Israel’s ruling Likud party are also obsessed with the Nazis, highlighting the fact that the Palestinian Mufti allied himself with the Nazis and spent the war in Berlin. I think that this is irrelevant to the current Israel-Palestine conflict, but it should be of great interest to Ken, with his Nazi-obsession, yet strangely he has never mentioned this, even though it really is a matter of historical record.

Ken is entitled to his views, but the problem is that Zionism and Israel are core to many Jews’ identity. This presents a dilemma; is it OK to say things that offend a minority, when the minority hold on to views which you find offensive? I think this is OK, as long as you are consistent. And here LivingCorbyn are on dodgy grounds; for example, Ken Livingstone invited Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi to come to London, despite his openly racist, misogynist and homophobic views.

Jeremy Corbyn’s friendship towards Hamas is hypocritical, not because of their desire for armed struggle against Israel, but for all of their other beliefs which Mr Corbyn should find offensive.

Given that Ken is so outspoken and speaks truth to power, I am sure that there are many beliefs that other religious minorities hold, which he could easily offend these minorities by speaking his mind. Yet he has failed to do so; there is no Fatwa against Ken. And this is problematic close to home, for example, the Labour party have been accused of staying silent on sexist behaviour by Muslim members within the Labour party.

Fanon was a remarkably prescient thinker, but he died over 50 years ago, and his cures have not worked in practice, violence begets more violence, socialism has generally been a disaster in the third-world.

Ken should not be thrown out of the Labour party for being anti-semitic or for sloppy, prejudiced thinking – if they did that, there wouldn’t be many people left in any political party. There are lots of forward-looking, radical ideas from left-thinkers which seek to address the problems of the contemporary, thinkers such as Manuel Castells, David Graeber or even Paul Morley.  Ken should be thrown out for having senile ideas.

Other countries have radical new left-wing political parties such as Podemos and Syriza which, for all their flaws, seek to look to the future, not the past. Perhaps Labour, which is currently euthanizing itself, could be replaced by a new, vibrant genuinely radical party of the left.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.


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