The Socialism of Fools: A Response to “Labour MP Luciana Berger was wrong to quit her party alongside her colleagues”
Back in my Labour Party and Momentum days (before my resignation in early 2017), I was refreshing the feed of one the numerous pro-Corbyn Facebook groups of which I was a member when I spotted a post referring to an Israeli woman as a “Zio-whore”. The thinly veiled anti-Semitic intent of the term, the blatant use of the prefix “Zio-“ as a substitute for another three letter word, hit me like a brick. That’s the first time I remember thinking that this was a bigger problem than the Labour left were willing to admit.
Soon afterwards I saw a tweet from Luciana Berger which featured what I can only describe as an anti-Semitic collage but it was only a small sample of the abuse she had received. The combination of offensive messages and the kind of lurid anti-Semitic cartoons you might expect to find in a Weimar-era fascist newspaper were burned onto my brain. I was dismayed, then, to read Lily Bichard-Collins’ opinion piece on Forge online.
If I were to interpret the piece charitably, I might draw attention to Bichard-Collins’ expressions of sympathy with Berger over the abuse she has faced. But this is rendered somewhat mealy-mouthed, coming as it does after Bichard-Collins has derided Berger as “a privately educated, southern Blairite” and a “centrist”. The superficially sympathetic tone is later more or less abandoned with the admission that Bichard-Collins can’t bring herself to disagree with the sentiment of those saying “good riddance” (she puts it less delicately than this) to Berger.
After shedding crocodile tears for Berger, Bichard-Collins castigates her for having the temerity to leave Labour. She proceeds to argue that, by using anti-Semitism as an “excuse” for leaving, Berger has somehow weakened those struggling against anti-Semitism within the Party. This argument only makes sense if you believe, as Bichard-Collins does, that the real reason for Berger’s departure is her “Blairite” dissent from Corbynism and not her experience of virulent racism. At the bottom of this is the assumption, recently expressed by Chris Williamson MP, that reports of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party are overblown.
No one who is actually paying attention, or indeed listening to the majority of British Jews inside and outside the Labour party, could fail to miss the fact that Labour anti-Semitism is sadly far from an illusory or minor problem. To take one shocking recent example from Twitter: I have seen Corbyn supporters referring to the “prophetic” nature of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion – a legendarily anti-Semitic document from the early twentieth century which purported to detail a Jewish plot for world domination and which inspired, among others, the Nazis. (In reality, The Protocols was cobbled together using extracts from late nineteenth century novels and political pamphlets in an attempt to discredit anything to the left of absolute monarchy.)
And to take another example: it has been revealed that Dr. Alex Scott-Samuel, the chair of Berger’s own Wavertree Constituency Labour Party, has been a regular guest on the “independent” radio show ‘The Richie Allen Show’. Allen’s show is hosted as part of a network created by noted Holocaust-denier (and lizard-obsessive) David Icke, with podcast episodes hosted on Icke’s website.
In her attitude towards Berger, Bichard-Collins shares the attitude of many Corbynites: that a loyal, socialist anti-Semite is preferable to a disloyal, anti-racist “centrist”. My opposition to this view was a major reason behind my decision to leave both Labour and Momentum in 2017. British society is manifestly unfair and needs to change (at the very least) along social democratic lines but I do not want to nationalise the buses only to throw Britain’s Jews under them.
Berger left the Labour Party because anti-Semitism is rife among a section of the Party’s supporters, leadership and among some candidates. No one knows the size of the problem in terms of exact numbers but what is certain is that many Corbynites are enabling anti-Semitism with their continued refusal to acknowledge the scale or existence of the problem. Beyond Berger, the other six MPs had their own reasons for leaving, such as a shared opposition to anti-Semitism, opposition to Corbyn’s foreign policy views, and to his (non-)stance over Brexit.
If only more Labour MPs had the courage to do something. “Stay and fight” is a noble thing to say but is silly sentimentalism if there’s not much left to fight for. At the branch and constituency party level and in the leader’s office, the Labour Party is dominated by people who believe that the most important thing is whether you support a socialised economy or not. This indifference has seen Corbynites turn a blind eye not only to racism but to the war crimes of the Assad regime in Syria and authoritarianism of the Maduro government in Venezuela. This is not a peripheral feature of the Corbyn “project” but is at its very centre. This has been the case since 2015 and it doesn’t look like it’s going to change any time soon.
The jury is still out on the Independent Group founded by Berger and the other members of the “gang of seven”. Angela Smith’s breathtakingly racist “funny tinge” remark (though she at least apologised for her racism) and the fact that they have been joined by a few Tory MPs are disappointing signs of the shape of things to come.
What is clear, however, is that those really worthy of your contempt are anti-Semites and their enablers, not those who refuse to have any further part in an institutionally racist political party.
For those still in need of evidence of Labour anti-Semitism, a number of organisations and individuals are doing stellar work documenting it, including Labour Against Anti-Semitism (@LAAS), the Jewish Labour Movement (@JewishLabour), @GnasherJew, Marlon Solomon (@supergutman), and David Hirsh (@DavidHirsh).
Image: Sophie Brown