31 July 2018

There’s a reason Corbynism appeals to cranks and anti-Semites


For decades, whenever there were terrorist attacks in the West, certain hard left politicians and commentators have blamed them on Western policy towards Israel, or the actions of the Israeli government itself. Terrorism and insurgency have been excused as a legitimate response of oppressed peoples to Israel’s actions in Gaza or the West Bank.

Sometimes this spills over into outlandish conspiracy theories, such as the claim that Israel itself arranged the 9/11 attacks. But more often it has just been the relentless blaming of Israel and “pro-Jewish lobbies” for all sorts of atrocities.

Significant numbers of hard left politicians and commentators have actively pushed such views. Larger numbers still nodded along or listened with interest. It was a rare and brave hard leftie who would dare to gainsay her comrades on this point.

Another strand of hard left thinking becomes inseparably intertwined with the blaming of Israel and “pro-Jewish lobbies” for terrorism and foreign policy problems: namely the blaming of bankers and other wealthy business interests for various of the ills of the world. Traditional clichés of the wealthy Jewish financier bubble under the surface of much anti-banker discussion on the hard left, and when their comrades overstep the mark and start talking of Jewish financiers instead of just financiers, they say they aren’t being anti-Semitic, that it’s merely a fact that the financiers they hate are Jews and they’d have hated and blamed them just as much if they’d been Chinese or Hispanic.

Again and again, old tropes of Jews controlling the media and the film industry leak out with little provocation. Not everyone on the hard left agrees with these thoughts or with expressing them in the ways some do, but if you do the rounds in the world of the anti-system left, you’re bound to encounter such sentiments.

This is not some unfortunate accidental feature of the sort of politics to which Jeremy Corbyn subscribes. Hard left movements will always attract conspiracy theorists, racists, communists and other anti-system types. And generally, if they are to make progress, they cannot afford to be too strict about dissociating themselves from anti-system fellow-travellers. A certain toleration of various forms of unpleasantness, whether communist or racist or conspiracy theorist in nature, is an inevitable feature of hard left politics.

That will be doubly true in periods when parties and party activist bases expand rapidly. The huge influx of new faces to Corbyn’s Labour Party has inevitably made vetting difficult. That has happened with other rapidly-growing political movements in the past — Ukip had a phase as its popularity exploded when it drew in many poorly vetted new activists and candidates, leading to a wave of scandals about their past misdemeanours. Some of the Corbynites’ problems stem from the same phenomenon.

But, more fundamentally, hard left political movements attract fellow-travellers that will try to steer them. Corbyn was endorsed by the Communist Party of Britain at the 2017 General Election — unsurprisingly, given that one of his two main political advisors (Andrew Murray) was a long-time member of the Communist Party’s executive committee. In April 2018 he was also endorsed by the former leader of the BNP, Nick Griffin.

One cannot necessarily, of course, hold a party responsible for all the crazies that endorse it. But Corbyn’s Labour is not endorsed by communists, anti-Semites and conspiracy theorists despite its essential nature, but because of it. Corbyn own positions on a range of issues about foreign policy, the role of bankers and rich business interests are merely the acceptable face of his fellow-travellers’ opinions.

In 1991, in “Labour Briefing”, Corbyn wrote (regarding the First Gulf War): “We now know that the Gulf War was a curtain-raiser for the New World Order: the rich and powerful, white and western will be able to maintain the present economic order with free use of all the weapons they wish for.” Later, in 1991, he wrote in Socialist Campaign Group News that “The aim of the war machine of the United States is to maintain a world order dominated by the banks and multinational companies of Europe and North America.”

In 2003, for the Morning Star he wrote “Historians will study with interest the news manipulation of the past 18 months. After September 11, the claims that bin Laden and al-Qaida had committed the atrocity were quickly and loudly made. This was turned into an attack on the Taliban and then, subtly, into regime change in Afghanistan.” To his fellow travellers, Corbyn may not be quite telling “the whole story”, but they have no doubt that his heart is where their’s is.

Thus the anti-Semitism “problems” Corbyn’s Labour now faces are not some recent accident or a result of his “weakness” in dealing with issues. They are a reflection of the long-standing attitudes on the hard left that have, for decades, regarded it as acceptable to blame Israel (which “just happens” to be full of Jews) or bankers (who, in the minds of many hard left types, just happen often to be Jewish) or the media (which, in the minds of the hard left, just happens to be controlled by Jews) or shadowy “New World Order” business interests (guess who those happen to be) for what they see as the ills of the world. As Corbyn’s power and influence expands, we can expect more of this, not less.

Andrew Lilico is an economist and political writer.