Expounding racial hatred before and after the Brexit vote

In this post I present, first, a brief overview of the current period in Britain vis-à-vis racism and hate crime; second, the limitation of a dominant academic understanding of racism; and third, a historical exposition of the nature of racism which offers explanatory power for our contemporary era.

I. Hate crime post the EU referendum

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Anti-Polish propaganda which was posted through the doors of immigrant residences in Cambridge during the EU referendum campaign (source: YouTube)

Britain’s EU referendum cannot simply be regarded at its face value as a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. More than this, it was a noxious campaign on immigration, which was preceded by years of political and media discourse that has mainstreamed anti-immigration sentiment. The Brexit vote legitimised racism: it took the shame out of racial hatred and unleashed waves of its verbal and physical expression. The Economist (2016) reports hate crime data from the National Police Chiefs’ Council of 3,076 incidents of harassment or violence between June 6th and 30th 2016, a rise of 915 on the same period the previous year. More recent figures, from between August 5th and 18th, indicate 2,778 cases, an increase of 14% on the same period in 2015. The stark reality behind these statistics can be seen through the following summary by The Independent (2016) of hate crime incidents since the EU referendum:

“Gangs prowling the streets demanding passers-by prove they can speak English

  • Swastikas in Armagh, Sheffield, Plymouth, Leicester, London and Glasgow.
  • Assaults, arson attacks and dog excrement being thrown at doors or shoved through letter boxes.
  • Toddlers being racially abused alongside their mothers, with children involved as either victims or perpetrators in 14 per cent of incidents.
  • A man in Glasgow ripping off a girl’s headscarf and telling her “Trash like you better start obeying the white man.”
  • Comparisons with 1930s Nazi Germany and a crowd striding through a London street chanting: “First we’ll get the Poles out, then the gays!””

This provides a critical backdrop and climate to the horrific fatal assault on a Polish man, Arkadiusz Jozwik, in Harlow, Essex, on 27th August 2016. The question addressed by this article is: why and how have we arrived at this moment? To answer this, we need to adequately understand the history and nature of racism in Britain.

II. Dominant academic framing of racism

The UK Independence Party's "Breaking Point" poster that was launched during the EU Referendum campaign

The UK Independence Party’s “Breaking Point” poster that was launched during the EU referendum campaign

Sociologist Gurminder K. Bhambra (2016), in a blog post written soon after the EU referendum result, states that what was “unleashed in the weeks prior to the vote was the most toxic discourse on citizenship and belonging, and the rights that pertain as a consequence”. She questions the idea of Britain as an ‘independent’ nation, given its history as part of wider political entities: notably, the colonial Empire and Commonwealth, and the European Union. Bhambra continues, the idea of the British nation has long been dependent on “a racially stratified political formation” of its making and, decisively, it has been:

“the loss of this privileged position – based on white elites and a working class offered the opportunity to see themselves as better than the darker subjects of empire […] – that seems to drive much of the current discourse. Austerity has simply provided the fertile ground for its re-emergence and expression.” (Bhambra, 2016)

Thus, she argues, to understand ‘Britain’ one needs to understand its colonial and imperial Empire and governance. The 1948 British Nationality Act was a turning point, for previously Britain’s colonial subjects were defined as British subjects but with the Act they became Commonwealth citizens. And as the bodies of these Commonwealth citizens migrated into the space of the British nation-state, “mythologies of the changing nature (or, perhaps more accurately, face) of Britain” developed:

“Mythologies that continue to reverberate in the present and have taken on a renewed political vibrancy in light of the debates regarding our continued EU membership. […] The transformation of darker citizens from citizens to aliens over the 1960s and 1970s was based on a visceral understanding of difference predicated on race that brought into being two classes of citizenship – full citizenship and second-class citizenship. […] immigration into the country was increasingly managed by the passing of Acts to discriminate among citizens on the basis of race.” (Bhambra, 2016)

From this twentieth century history, Bhambra concludes that the “common-sense position” on what it means “to be British or English is to be white”, as based on the “mythology of a white Europe or a historically white Britain”. The consequence of this (racist) common sense is a grave misrepresentation of Britain’s “multiracial political formations”. As such:

“we must rethink our analyses to take into account the imperial configuration of Britain and all those who were subjects within it and subject to it. If this is not done, then that demonstrates a commitment to a racialized national history that has no space for its darker subjects.” (Bhambra, 2016)

For me, this academic narrative leaves unexplained the present-day racism against Eastern Europeans, for example. Without a doubt, racism before and since the EU referendum affects Britain’s darker subjects, but what has evolved is not simply or only a racism that targets those of different skin colour. Other markers, both visible and invisible, are also at play as signifying negative racial difference and inciting hatred. Helpful here is the work of the sociologist Robert Miles (1993), who makes the point that proposing (or indeed assuming) the ideology of racism has its historical origins in colonialism can lead to a conclusion that racism is an ideology created exclusively by ‘white’ people to dominant ‘black’ people. However, “in part, the origins of racism can be traced back to pre-capitalist social relations within and beyond Europe” and “its reproduction is as much determined by the rise of the nation state as by colonialism” (Miles, 1993). From the highly cited and regarded work of Stuart Hall and the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) collective, a dominant academic understanding of racism has problematically developed, as Miles observes, “often implicit in their writing is the assumption that the only contemporary form of racism in Britain is that which has people of Caribbean and South Asian origin as its object”. Yet:

“Many physical characteristics (both real and imagined) have been and continue to be signified as a mark of nature and of ‘race’ […]. Moreover, cultural characteristics have also been, and continue to be, signified to the same end. The reification of skin colour therefore mistakenly privileges one specific instance of signification and ignores the historical and contemporary evidence which shows that other populations (Jews, Irish people, etc.) have been signified as distinct and inferior ‘races’ without reference to skin colour […]. Moreover, it restricts analysis of the nature and determinants of racism to a debate about the effects of colonial exploitation.” (Miles, 1993)

I turn now to detail Miles’ exploration of the history of racism, which, I will illustrate, provides astute explanatory power to the contemporary era surrounding Brexit.

III. On the history of racism and its reverberations in the present

Miles’ explanation of the historical interrelationship between nationalism and racism vis-à-vis capitalist development is instructive:

“In the context of its formation, nationalism was […] a revolutionary doctrine because it sought to overturn monarchy and aristocratic government by an appeal to the popular will of ‘the people’ who were the ‘nation’ […] For much of the nineteenth century, nationalism was synonymous with a struggle for political sovereignty within defined spatial boundaries and for some form of representative government. […] By way of contrast, there was no single political strategy that emerged from the general theory of biological, hierarchical differentiation expressed in the idea of ‘race’. This was not only because there was little agreement about the boundaries between the supposed ‘races’, but also because scientific racism did not posit a single, coherent political object. The theorisation of ‘race’ and ‘nation’ took place at a time of ‘internal’ European political and economic reorganisation and ‘external’ colonial expansion, in the course of which the range of human cultural and physiological variation became more widely known to a larger number of people. The extension of capitalist relations of production increased the circulation of commodities and of people, and this increasing mobility, migration and social interaction provided part of the foundation upon which the ideologies of racism and nationalism were constructed. The increasing profusion of physiological and cultural variation, as recognised in western Europe, became the object of intellectual curiosity and, thereby, of the theoretical practice of scientists and philosophers. But it also became the focus of political attention and action as populations within and beyond Europe were nationalised and racialised by the state […]” (Miles, 1993)

Mesocephalic indexes - an illustration of racial science from the Popular Science Monthly Volume 50, 1896 (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Mesocephalic indexes of different ‘races’ – an illustration of racial science from the Popular Science Monthly Volume 50, 1896 (source: Wikimedia Commons)

While distinct ideologies, nationalism and racism can overlap: the construct of the ‘nation’ as based on cultural differentiae is compatible with the notion that the nation is founded on a biological ‘race’. Miles continues to demonstrate that first the feudal aristocracy’s, and later the bourgeoisie’s, ‘civilisation’ project became fused with racism – a civilisation project which was central to emergent and developing capitalist social relations within and outside Europe:

“In France, notions of politesse and civilité were used by the feudal aristocracy to contrast the refinement of their behaviour with that of the ‘inferior’ people whom they ruled. […] the bourgeoisie became its leading exponent once it had displaced the aristocracy as the ruling class. By the early nineteenth century, the bourgeoisie, conscious of its material achievements and more firmly in political control in at least certain parts of Europe, began to assert that its values and manners were more a matter of inheritance than a social construction. In these circumstances the notion of civilisation (Elias 1978: 50): “serves at least those nations which have become colonial conquerors, and therefore a kind of upper class to large sections of the non-European world, as a justification of their rule, to the same degree that earlier the ancestors of the concept of civilisation, politesse and civilité, had served the courtly-aristocratic upper class as a justification of theirs.”” (Miles, 1993)

Depending on conjuncture and interests, the boundaries of blood have been mapped and remapped:

“Hence, during the nineteenth century, in certain circumstances the English working class, or fractions thereof, were signified by the dominant class as ‘a different breed’, an uncivilised ‘race’, but in other circumstances, as a constituent part of the English (or British) ‘race’, a ‘breed’ which contains ‘in its blood’ civilised and democratic values. […] The result was a racialised nationalism or a nationalist racism, a mercurial ideological bloc that was manipulated by the ruling class (or rather by different fractions of it) to legitimate the exploitation of inferior ‘races’ in the colonies, to explain economic and political struggles with other European nation states, and to signify (for example) Irish and Jewish migrants as an undesirable ‘racial’ presence within Britain.” (Miles, 1993)

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This 1862 song, “No Irish Need Apply”, was inspired by No Irish Need Apply [NINA] signs in London (source: Wikipedia)

Thus for over two centuries the signification of racial difference has been a central aspect of class relations and class struggle both inside and beyond Europe. To maintain domination:

“Europeans in different class positions have racialised each other, as well as inward migrants and those populations that they colonised beyond Europe. During the twentieth century, there have been further examples of the racialisation of the interior of European nation states (as in the case of the Jews), as well as a racialisation of larger-scale inward migrations, including colonial and non-colonial migrations, since 1945.” (Miles, 1993)

We might productively consider the present period in Britain as an extension and evolution of this history, in which racism vilifies an internal European Other and an Other from outside Europe.

It was by the close of the nineteenth century that the political economic domination of the global capitalist system by Britain came under threat from sources inside and beyond Europe, and as such, by the final quarter of the nineteenth century:

“a new, right-wing English patriotism, which was simultaneously royalist and racist, was created […] the whole world was racialised, including Europe, in an attempt to comprehend the rise of competing European capitalisms, each embodied in a separate national shell, and each seeking its ‘destiny’ on the world stage” (Miles, 1993)

A nineteenth century British cartoon (source: Wikimedia Commons)

A nineteenth century British cartoon (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Irish immigration into Britain during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was racialised, as was immigration from Eastern Europe and Germany. There was widely perceived to be an ‘alien’ problem in the country:

Commencing halfway through the penultimate decade of the nineteenth century, a political campaign against the settlement of immigrants from eastern Europe achieved prominence […] Those involved in the campaign consistently exaggerated the scale of immigration […] and demanded the introduction of an immigration law which would permit the state to control and limit the entry of Jewish refugees from eastern Europe. […] the notions of ‘immigrant’ and ‘alien’ became synonymous in everyday life with that of Jew […] legislation regulating the entry of aliens into Britain was introduced immediately preceding and after the First World War. […] Assertions about the existence of a German conspiracy multiplied, and myths about the German ‘national character’ which signified Germans as having certain (negatively evaluated) natural attributes were widely articulated […] The categories of ‘German’ and ‘Jew’ were often used synonymously” (Miles, 1993)

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The Daily Mail, 1938 (source: Wikimedia Commons)

The political debate surrounding the Aliens Act of 1905, and the subsequent Aliens Restriction Act of 1914 and Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Bill and Act of 1919, identified the problematic presence of three population groups:

“First, there was a lingering desire to find additional ways of punishing the defeated foe, the ‘Hun’. In addition, two ‘new’ enemies were found. These were trade union radicals or ‘Bolshevik sympathisers’, and Jews, including those who had arrived as refugees in the late nineteenth century as well as the longer-established Jewish community, a proportion of which formed part of the British bourgeoisie […] Collectively, this Other constituted the quintessential ‘alien’” (Miles, 1993)

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An anti-immigration poster from 1902 (source: Wikipedia)

Nonetheless, confronting major shortages of labour, the Labour government reluctantly opted for large-scale foreign-sourced labour. By the close of 1946 a system was in place for the resettlement of Polish people and the European Volunteer Scheme (EVW) came into being. The political discourse underpinning this immigration was one of ‘assimilation’ and (as it later transpired) a problem of lack of ‘integration’:

“the concern was to find the most suitable ‘races and nationalities’ that would not only provide labour power but also possess the kind of ‘vigorous blood’ that could be expected to benefit ‘our stock’. […] As evidence accumulated showing that the Poles and the EVWs were not learning the English language, that they continued to identify themselves with the nation states from which they originated, and that they were forming ‘exclusive communities’, official concern increased.” (Miles, 1993)

A stark comparison can be made here with the present-day racism against Polish people, who are accused of failing to integrate and assimilate to the so-called British way of life. Across Europe, including Britain, integration has become a state objective: “‘they’ are expected to learn to behave like ‘us’ because cultural homogeneity is considered to be a necessary precondition for the survival of the nation” (Miles, 1993).

Miles identifies a shift vis-à-vis immigration to Britain during the years 1945-1951, from Europe as the major source of labour migration to that of the British colonies and ex-colonies:

“because the British state proved unwilling to realise its racism in law at this time, the rights of British colonial and ex-colonial subjects to enter and settle in Britain were not withdrawn. Migration from the Caribbean (as well as from Ireland) continued and increased through the 1950s, and was paralleled by migration from India and Pakistan. It was not until 1962 that the British state imposed controls on the entry of British subjects from what had become known as the New Commonwealth.” (Miles, 1993)

Decisively, “by removing the right of entry to, and settlement in, the United Kingdom from certain categories of British subject, the state established new (racist) criteria by which to determine membership of the ‘imagined community’ of nation” (Miles, 1993). A critical aspect of this post-1945 era has been the response of the British state to political agitation for immigration controls against ‘coloureds’: such immigrants have been “simultaneously racialised and signified as the cause of economic and social problems for ‘our own people’” (Miles, 1993). Similarly, in recent times, both European and non-European migrants to Britain have been racialised and signified as the cause of the social and economic problems of the British people; it has become (racist) common sense that immigration is a problem and must be severely controlled.

The development of the European Union has brought with it a new specificity of tensions vis-à-vis immigration, nationalism and racism. What isn’t new is the political debate about immigration – framed as alien populations flooding in to threaten the identity and existence of the nation. However, what is distinct is that:

“the effects are refracted through a novel international conjuncture, one in which the reality of the nation state, and the power of the individual state to regulate social relations within its ‘sovereign territory’, is being transformed in Europe as a result of the interplay between the power of international capital and the political reorganisation embodied in the evolution of the EC as a supranational political unit.” (Miles, 1993)

From the early 1950s through to the early 1970s there was large-scale labour migration into Western Europe which (with some exceptions) the state promoted as an economic necessity. But since then this political discourse has been replaced by one of the need for stricter and stricter immigration controls. And so:

“Every official statement expressing support for the ‘principle’ of increased [immigration] control […] legitimates political opposition to immigration within the electorate in circumstances where the state faces structural constraints on its ability to deliver what it promises: this contradiction will ensure that immigration remains at the centre of political conflict within most European nation states and within the European Commission during the 1990s and beyond. The contradiction is overdetermined by the reality of the EC as a political entity: because of the attempt to create a European immigration policy, the politicisation of immigration as a problem in one member state can have immediate repercussions in the others. Moreover, in so far as a consequence of continuing immigration is a magnification of political opposition to it, and in so far as that opposition is grounded in, or expressive of, racism, the intervention of the state reinforces that racism.” (Miles, 1993)

One response that has emerged on the Left defines the European Union as a ‘Fortress Europe’, which “prevent[s] ‘black’ people from entering its borders and […] sustain[s] a common ‘white’, Judaeo-Christian heritage by repelling or subordinating alien (non-European) cultural influences (such as Islam)” (Miles, 1993). During the EU referendum, this was what Lexit campaigners such as the SWP raised in their incoherent arguments. What is indeed rampant in the contemporary era surrounding Brexit is a pan-European racism – reflected in the growth of far Right parties across the continent – against, for example, an African Other, an Islamic Other, a Syrian Other, et cetera. That said, Fortress Europe racism is not the whole picture. As observed by Miles of the late twentieth century:

“For geo-spatial and ideological reasons, the greatest apprehension originally concerned migration from the southern edge of the EC. The fear was, and is, that the Mediterranean Sea will become Europe’s Rio Grande, no more than a minor obstacle for the ‘millions’ of Africans seeking to enter the EC illegally […] Since 1989, new fears have been articulated: speculation has increased about a large-scale migration from eastern Europe, one that places Germany (and Austria) in the front line against an ‘invasion’ from the east.” (Miles, 1993)

Alongside then a Fortress Europe which negatively racialises an external (non-white and/or non-Christian) Other, what has also become prevalent is a negative racialisation of an internal (white) Other, most notably, Eastern Europeans. These racialisations and their associated racial hatreds have historical origins in capitalist (and pre-capitalist) social relations and the nation state, with colonialism one integral moment within this; in this context, “theories of racism which are grounded solely in the analysis of colonial history and which prioritise the single somatic characteristic of skin colour have a specific and limited explanatory power” (Miles, 1993).

 

References

Bhambra, Gurminder K. (2016) “Viewpoint: Brexit, Class and British ‘National’ Identity”, http://discoversociety.org/2016/07/05/viewpoint-brexit-class-and-british-national-identity/, last accessed 10th September 2016

Editorial (2016) “Hate crime: Bearing the brunt”, The Economisthttp://www.economist.com/news/britain/21706477-rancid-post-referendum-rise-bearing-brunt, last accessed 10th September 2016

Lusher, Adam (2016) “Racism unleashed: True extent of the ‘explosion of blatant hate’ that followed Brexit result revealed”, The Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-racism-uk-post-referendum-racism-hate-crime-eu-referendum-racism-unleashed-poland-racist-a7160786.html, last accessed 10th September 2016

Miles, Robert (1993) Race after ‘race relations’. London: Routledge

Questions all Owen Jones supporters need to answer

Owen Jones (Wikimedia Commons)

Owen Jones (Wikimedia Commons)

An article by Owen Jones titled “Questions all Jeremy Corbyn supporters need to answer” (posted on 31st July 2016) has stimulated a range of responses from the broad left-wing milieu of the Labour Party which appear to fall into three camps:

1) some, who intend to vote for Jeremy Corbyn in the forthcoming leadership election, regard this article as a genuine effort at helping to advance the campaign;

2) some, who originally voted for Jeremy Corbyn but now intend to vote for Owen Smith, take welcome refuge in Owen Jones’ words;

3) some (for the first time) question the sincerity of Owen Jones’ politics.

Notable online responses thus far include the following. Darrell Kavanagh reasons and pleads with Owen Jones: “If the Labour Party is going to be the vehicle for social change, we need to rebuild it from the ground up, taking account of the atomisation of the working class which means that the old hierarchical structures of the movement need to be replaced. A Corbyn leadership makes this possible. Owen Smith as leader would make it impossible  –  the nascent transformation of the Party into a new mass movement would be stillborn and the stultifying party bureaucracy would regain its hold. … So please, Owen, come out clearly for Corbyn. The movement enabled by, and represented by, Corbyn’s leadership is currently the only game in town for the British left.” Also in the spirit of reason and plea, the blogger Redstart writes: “While I am a little confused by the timing of the article, in the middle of a leadership contest, I take the article as questions from a critical friend and will attempt a response in the same spirit.” On the question then of how Labour’s mass membership can be mobilised: “The first thing that must be done. Now. Is for Labour MPs to stop insulting new members. I’ve never seen anything quite like this. There has never been a time when new members have been made less welcome and at a time when there have never been so many new members. So that’s the first thing: MPs must stop calling new members trots, rabble, dogs, scum, entryists, etc. … most new members are keen, committed, doing something that they perhaps never thought they would and actually pretty excited about what will happen. And then what happens? They’re insulted by MPs. They’re not allowed to vote in the leadership election unless they pay another £25. They’re told there’ll be no more meetings (to protect MPs from the likes of them) and then some meetings are organised for leadership nominations but they’re not allowed to come, so aren’t invited.” More critically discerning of Owen Jones, Kate Buffery states: “Despite his protestations, Owen Jones has taken sides. The choice at the moment is between Corbyn or Smith. Jones doesn’t want Corbyn as he is. … And Jones’ blog looks too like the work of man who is sure he ‘knows better’ and feels unfairly spurned. He too readily uses the excuse that he is being true to himself whilst using his position to compromise that of a leader he ostensibly supports. He’s under no obligation to put right the proven media bias against Corbyn (which he brushes off as readily as Corbyn’s most fervent detractors) but I don’t see a genuine principle at play in deciding to do the opposite. … a huge number of Labour members, have judged Corbyn to be the best possible option to guard and promote the democratic socialist agenda. If you truly believe in democracy and in socialism Owen Jones, ask not what Corbyn or Corbyn supporters should be doing for you  –  but what you should be doing for this movement. Whilst you are using media pressure in the hope of changing the mindset of an elected leader so that it more neatly reflects your own, you become a dead weight in Corbyn’s leadership campaign despite positioning yourself above it.” Finally, and perhaps most scathing of all, Manuel Cortes, the general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, has suggested (as reported in the Huffington Post): “Owen Jones’s ‘Questions all Jeremy Corbyn supporters need to answer’ is the public climax to a private campaign of criticism of the Labour leader which Owen initiated within 24 hours of Corbyn’s election last September. Barely had the votes been counted to give Jeremy his unprecedented mandate than Owen was embarking on his ‘it’s all going wrong’ shtick to anyone who would listen. Some may now see this as the act of one whose prescience borders on genius, others as a campaign of petulant resentment by a celeb no longer quite as centre-stage as he was accustomed to being. Whatever, his assertion that ‘I cannot even begin to put into words how much I’ve agonised over Labour’s terrible plight’ is the one flat untruth in his blog, as can be attested to by anyone who has suffered his foaming hour-long reviews of the disasters that have attended Team Corbyn’s failure to follow his advice to the letter.”

For me, public intellectuals like Owen Jones are incredibly important because very few left-wing people have a voice in the mainstream media. Owen Jones isn’t an anybody, he is a somebody. His words and his deeds carry tremendous weight. He has a big support base. I questioned him back in 2013 about his article, Sexual violence is not a cultural phenomenon in India – it is endemic everywhere, and invited him to reply to my critique of his argument here (which he ignored). I pay attention to what Owen Jones says and does because he is influential. As such, alarm bells went off vis-à-vis Owen Jones’ early political contribution amid the Labour Party coup. It is worth listening carefully to Owen Jones’ video that he posted on 29th June 2016 (and while doing so, bear in mind that the public face of the coup began in the morning of 26th June 2016).

In this video Owen Jones makes four main points – the fourth is bewildering:

  1. Owen states that Britain is engulfed in its worst crisis since World War Two, that the situation is very bleak and difficult, and that he predicted the Brexit vote and the subsequent disasters. Owen goes on to list these disasters as, one, the takeover of the Conservative Party by its right-wing faction; two, a coup against Jeremy Corbyn; three, an early General Election with a united Conservative Party and a Labour Party in crisis; four, a second independence referendum in Scotland; five, the legitimation of xenophobia and racism in mainstream politics; and six, retribution from the EU (who fears its own disintegration).
  2. Owen reasons, one could sit and weep for the country, which he has done, but one shouldn’t become paralysed. He urges that we need to do our very best to save this country.
  3. We need to accept the Brexit vote, Owen says. Moreover, he sees the Brexit vote as a result of working class people wanting to punch the political establishment. Given many problems which people face are seen through the lens of immigration, Owen calls for a rationale discussion on immigration.
  4. Owen concludes by saying that he wants to suggest something constructive – in his words: “…to launch a new broad based campaign, which, maybe its called Save Our Future or Operation Hope, maybe these aren’t very catchy names, maybe I’d like you to suggest in the comments what this campaign could be called, and basically it would deal with the threats I spoke about in the last video, and would organise in communities across the country, bringing lots of high-profile people and veteran campaigners…”

Here we have Owen Jones, amidst the Labour Party coup and the response from an ever-growing social and political movement around Jeremy Corbyn (most of whom are grassroots Labour Party members, old and new, and some of whom are organised through the Momentum campaign), amidst this, call for a brand new alternative campaign: Save Our Future or Operation Hope. He states that this (brand new) campaign is needed in order to defend workers’ rights, defend the NHS, combat racism and xenophobia, and engage young people in politics and democracy. At various moments in this video, scenes from the defend Corbyn rally in Parliament Square on 27th June 2016 provide the backdrop of Owen Jones’ proposal. It’s bizarre. Why? Because the social and political movement that has coalesced and is still coalescing around Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour Party is a movement that wants to defend workers’ rights, defend the NHS, combat racism and xenophobia, and engage young people in politics and democracy. Owen Jones goes on to say:

“…in due course I want to approach people, particularly people who I think could be influential, including campaigning organisations which I think are rooted in communities, that needs to be at the absolute forefront of this, I’d like to set up a good website where people can get in touch…”

Owen Jones does not simply call for a new campaign, he wants to initiate this himself. He positions himself as its key player. But he doesn’t want to just impose it (his words, “I don’t want to just impose this idea on people”), he wants his supporters to collectively own it. Perhaps Save Our Future or Operation Hope could be more accurately called Project Owen (Jones or Smith). Here are two questions for Owen Jones and his supporters:

  • At a time when the force and forces of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the British establishment have mobilised to smear and oust Jeremy Corbyn and to degrade and annihilate the mass social and political movement around him and in the Labour Party, why would you not throw your weight behind this movement? Most of us are, after all, critical supporters not blind cult followers.
  • When a mass social and political movement of new and old Labour Party members has developed, many of whom are involved in the Momentum campaign and in their Labour Party branches and CLPs (when they’re not suspended or, prior to that, acting in plainly hostile ways to sideline the so-called ‘Corbynistas’), then if you are interested in its politics, its strategy, its democracy, and its future – in discussing, in debating, and in shaping all of this – why would you wish to launch a campaign apart from this?

Brexit’s inevitable racism

“‘History’ has to be renegotiated and resignified in order to (re)create a sense of the past appropriate to the particular conjuncture and the political project for the future. […] in the case of English nationalism, the events selected include those which evince a sense of external threat over which ‘the English people’ triumph, especially events concerning war and imperialism […]. The continually reconstructed sense of the English past, in which ‘race’ is an ever present reification, signifies the English ‘nation’ (and therefore the idea of ‘race’) as an ever present collective subject” (Miles 1993: 76-77)

In one significant sense, the EU referendum wasn’t a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, rather it was a referendum on immigration and English/British national identity in which the idea of ‘race’ was infused. The referendum’s outcome, its narrow margin, was critically determined by the sociological white working class in England (and Wales), the former Labour Party heartlands. The dominant slogan of the Leave campaign, “Take back control”, as vacuous as it was, nevertheless translated as take back control of ‘our national borders’ and of ‘our nation’. It resonated as a slogan because large and indeed broader sections of the public have become convinced that their country is being invaded – that ‘we are under threat’.

Anti-immigration discourse has become mainstream, as (New) Labour joined the Conservative Party in its propagation alongside much of the media (all with various shades, nuances, and guises). Once the Labour Party explicitly bought into an anti-immigration discourse, along with the austerity politics post the 2007 -2008 global capitalist crisis – albeit a softer anti-immigration and a softer austerity – then the far Right, including UKIP, were on course to gain, as dramatically confirmed by Brexit.

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The Labour Party’s “Controls on immigration” mug from 2015: representing one of its election pledges. This was criticised at the time as pandering to UKIP.

It is also crucial to recognise that this contemporary moment is not altogether new:

“An important dimension of the post-1945 period has been the way in which successive British governments have responded to political agitation to impose immigration controls on the entry of those who used to be called ‘coloured’ Commonwealth citizens […]. The political discourse employed has been overtly and covertly racist, although within the formal political arena, references to inherent biological inferiority to legitimate the demand for such exclusion have been rare. Rather, the migrants have been simultaneously racialised and signified as the cause of economic and social problems for ‘our own people’ […] The post-1945 Caribbean and Asian presence in Britain has been signified as a previously external threat that is now ‘within’, so that the ‘old order’ is threatened by its presence. As a result, because ‘our’ collective existence is supposedly challenged, resistance (even a new war) must be organised. The prominent and desirable features of ‘our culture’ are spotlighted and reified by the assertion that they are in danger of being negated by the consequences of the presence of an Other […](Miles 1993: 73-77)

If we replace “‘coloured’ Commonwealth citizens” with Eastern European migrants and Syrian refugees (although the former are still scapegoated), then what we have today is a situation in which the Other is racialised and signified as the cause of the social and economic ills of ‘ordinary English/British people’. What’s more, the contemporary external threat has a more fluid geography that includes Europe, against which one’s own cultural identity must seemingly be defended and preserved. All the while, a neoliberal politics of austerity, with its driving conditions of poverty and inequality, escapes critique.

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“migrants have been simultaneously racialised and signified as the cause of economic and social problems for ‘our own people’” (Miles)

We have a constructed fantasy of a country at war, of a country being invaded, and of an enemy within. With anti-immigration discourse becoming conventional, it is not surprising that during the EU referendum the Leave campaign’s dominant slogan, “Take back control”, won ideologically.

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A country at war, a country invaded

Leave voters talked of: ‘wanting our country back’; it being ‘time to stand on our own two feet’; and that ‘we’re British, so come what may, we’ll be okay’. Such statements of faith illustrate a belief in a fabricated past and present and an impossible future, counter to all credible evidence and empirical reality. Amidst an anti-intellectual culture of ‘don’t trust the experts’ (with a leading Leave campaigner and former Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove saying, “I think people in this country have had enough of experts”), “Take back control” reflected a quasi-religious English/British nationalism and patriotism saturated with the idea of ‘race’. The results of Lord Ashcroft’s Poll on how people voted in the EU referendum are startling in this respect:

One third (33%) [of leave voters] said the main reason was that leaving “offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders.” […] In England, leave voters (39%) were more than twice as likely as remain voters (18%) to describe themselves either as “English not British” or “more English than British”. Remain voters were twice as likely as leavers to see themselves as more British than English. Two thirds of those who considered themselves more English than British voted to leave; two thirds of those who considered themselves more British than English voted to remain. […] By large majorities, voters who saw multiculturalism, feminism, the Green movement, globalisation and immigration as forces for good voted to remain in the EU; those who saw them as a force for ill voted by even larger majorities to leave.”

During the 1980s the Thatcher-led Conservative government created a populist unity though nationalism and patriotism, including ‘a Great Britain at war’. Take Thatcher’s speech in July 1982, after the Falklands War, in which she constructs a discourse remarkably similar to that of the Leave campaign:

“When we started out, there were the waverers and the fainthearts, the people who thought that Britain could no longer seize the initiative for herself … that Britain was no longer the nation that had built an Empire and ruled a quarter of the world. Well they were wrong. The lesson of the Falklands is that this nation still has those sterling qualities which shine through our history.” (Cited in Miles 1993: 75)

During the EU referendum campaign, Leave spokespeople teased the Remain camp for not believing in Britain: the Remainers were ridiculed as the waverers and the fainthearted.

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Nationalism, patriotism, and faith in the implicit idea of (racial) superiority

Back to the 1980s:

“The Conservative government reinforced this notion of Englishness or Britishness, which is shaped by the idea of ‘race’, in its British Nationality Act, 1981. The Act brought nationality law into line with the racist categories constructed in earlier immigration law and immigration rules (Dixon 1983: 173): “The crucial irony of the 1981 Act is that it is designed to define a sense of belonging and nationhood which is itself a manifestation of the sense of racial superiority created along with the Empire, while simultaneously it cuts the ties of citizenship established in the same historical process. The ideology of Empire is reconstructed: while Thatcherism rejects the essential expansionism of Empire in favour of ‘isolationism’, its supremacism, chauvinism and racism are preserved.” (Miles 1993: 76)

In 1950 UNESCO issued a statement declaring the so-called biological phenomenon of ‘race’ as a social myth. Before this, the British Empire had a specific relationship to nineteenth century racial science. To help justify colonial domination, ideas developed by racial science were incorporated into arguments to naturalise capitalist exploitation: ‘it is the white man’s burden to civilise the black and brown races’. What survives from this history is a pseudo-biological cultural racism: in which the idea of ‘race’ feeds into nation, and biology into culture. English/British nationalism echoes nineteenth and early twentieth century imperial nationalism. Embedded in this nationalism and patriotism, disguised within, is the idea of ‘race’:

“Phrases like “the Island Race” and “the Bulldog Breed” vividly convey the manner in which this nation is represented in terms which are simultaneously biological and cultural.” (Gilroy 1987: 45)

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Brexit Great Britain: an island race of bulldog breed

A dangerous outcome of the EU referendum is echoed in the words of Sivanandan (1990: 150) on 1980s Britain: “Shame…has gone out of Thatcherite Britain – the shame of being a racist…” Take, for example, the upfront honesty of some Leave voters from the north and south of England as reported on television news shortly after the result:

What Brexit has done is legitimise racism from which the fascist far Right will continue to grow (and it will grow most vigorously if a Labour Party coup succeeds in ousting the socialist leader, pro-immigration and anti-austerity, Jeremy Corbyn, in order to shift the party rightwards once again to a soft anti-immigration and a soft austerity politics).

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The Labour Party ‘on the back foot’ with a former Labour voter on the question of immigration during the 2010 election.

The question of Scotland is an important one, with both the SNP a vocally pro-immigration (and anti-austerity) party and Scottish voters, in the main, pro-Europe. The question being: why? The following astute historical analysis of the distinct nature of Scottish nationalism, vis-à-vis racism, offers an answer:

“post-1945 Asian migrants to Scotland have not been the object of a systematic and hostile political agitation as happened in England (although this is not to deny that racist images of these migrants are commonly expressed in everyday life in Scotland). Part of the explanation for this lies in the fact that the particular political compromise embodied in the Act of Union of 1707 between England and Scotland ensured the reproduction of a distinct proto-state apparatus and national identity. In this context, political nationalism in Scotland during the twentieth century has tended to focus on the perceived economic and political disadvantages of the Union. Nationalism in Scotland during the 1960s and 1970s therefore identified an external cause of economic disadvantage/decline, without reference to ‘race’, while in England the idea of ‘race’ was employed to identify an internal cause of crisis, the presence of a ‘coloured’ population which was not ‘truly’ British.” (Miles 1993: 77-78)

In the context of Brexit, the accusation of racism is a contentious one. One narrative emerging after the Leave campaign victory, from many of its voters, is an offended and defensive ‘I’m not a racist…’ One needs to understand what racism actually is (see my blog post Racism 101). While not all Leave voters (including the highly irresponsible fool-heads of Lexit) were and are racists, without doubt, the Leave campaign pushed and unleashed a reconstructed ideology of British Empire soaked with supremacism, chauvinism, and racism. Deeply worrying and perilous times lie ahead.

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Post EU referendum: a continued discourse of a Great Britain under attack that requires a tough Army General to lead against.

Reference: Miles, Robert (1993) Racism after ‘race relations’. London: Routledge.

[I dedicate this post to Lee Claydon, with love and solidarity.]

My interview in Jungle World on the British radical Left and Europe

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Jungle World is a radical left-wing German weekly newspaper published in Berlin, which is known for its anti-nationalist and cosmopolitan politics.

The following is the original transcript of my interview in Jungle World here.

In your Blog you have criticized the position of the SWP and Lexit campaign. Can you briefly describe why a part of the British (radical) left is arguing for leaving the EU and why this is wrong in your opinion?

Dominant sections of the British Trotskyist Left, and surviving Stalinist currents, compose the Lexit campaign. The legacy of Stalinism largely explains why so-called Trotskyist organisations like the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and Socialist Party (SP) have effectively adopted a leftist nationalist position – a hangover from the Stalinist idea of “socialism in one country”. One further feature of the SWP’s and SP’s position is their warped calculation of ‘Britain out’: that conditions will be objectively better for the British working class because there will be a crisis in the ruling Conservative Party government. This is warped since the mainstream Brexit campaign, if it succeeds, will undoubtedly be a huge victory for the political Right (regardless of any reshuffle of its leaders). The hegemonic politics of ‘Britain out’ is anti-immigration, racist nationalism. There’s simply no way round this.

The Lexit campaign is mobilising the nation-state as a bulwark against the evils of neoliberal global capitalism. For sure, the EU is a bureaucratic and undemocratic capitalist club of bosses, which is hostile to immigrants and refugees. But as socialists we are not crudely anti-capitalist; we are not crudely anti-globalisation. We are for sublating the progressive elements of capitalism out of capitalism; we are for an alternative globalisation. As such, on the EU question, our political response should be: stay in and fight for a fully democratic workers’ Europe. This is congruent with the tradition of Marxism (from Marx and Engels, through to Gramsci, Lenin, and Trotsky): for a socialist “United States of Europe”. Capital seeks globalisation, it seeks to overcome national borders; let’s not forget that as capitalism’s gravediggers, so do we but on our own terms! It is incongruous and anti-dialectical to pose as internationalist and yet succumb to nationalism, which is what Lexit does.

The upcoming EU referendum has revived nationalist sentiment and postcolonial nostalgia. Is the rhetoric of independence related to the British colonialist history? Does the (radical) left have an answer to that? What is particularly “British” in this discourse and where do you see analogies with other European countries, where anti-EU populism, both left and right wing, grew in the past decade?

Since 1945 racist anti-immigration discourse in Britain has rarely referenced biological inferiority, rather immigrants have been racialised as the cause of the socio-economic problems of ordinary Britons. English/British nationalism is dependent upon the idea of ‘race’: “an island race” which is distinct and apart from Europe. This imagined community utilises the past supposed greatness of the British Empire. A present insecurity in the national psyche, fuelled by a politics of austerity and a scapegoating of ‘the Other’, drives a resurgence in the allegiance to the national psyche: ‘Britain was great, let’s make Britain great again’. Ironically the Lexit campaign, while ostensibly for open borders, totally blunts its ability to challenge this racist nationalism.

The British situation is also very much part of a contemporary and pervasive European trend of anti-EU populism and exclusivist and racist nationalism, which positions the nation-state as a rampart against the perils of globalisation. This is a populism that seeks to cement space and reverse time. This is a deeply reactionary throwback of which a potential disintegration of the EU would be a part.

What role does the refugee crisis play in the referendum campaign? On the one side the right wing fears the refugees, on the other side the left sees the EU as a system killing people who are seeking protection or a better life… Why is it possible for the left to agree with the the right and far right in this question?

Absolutely core to the mainstream Brexit campaign is an implicit and sometimes explicit racism and xenophobia to immigrants and refugees, specifically their racialisation as the cause of socio-economic woes, which leaves the government’s politics of austerity unquestioned. The primary argument of the Lexit campaign is that the EU is neoliberalism incarnate, which leaves our national government ‘off the hook’. Secondary arguments of Lexit follow: the EU is an enemy of immigrants and refugees, and a ‘Britain out’ vote will destabilise the government. It is not a case of the far Right and the far Left agreeing on the question of immigrants and refugees, but rather that both place blame on the EU and negate national bourgeois responsibility.

Let´s focus more on the left. Why does the British and European left rediscover nationalism right now? Is it only anti-EU-rhetoric or is there more about that?

Romantic anti-globalisation has long been a current on the Left. This includes the crass dichotomy of ‘local good’ and ‘global bad’. In this schema, the nation-state forms the context spatiality of ‘the local’ whereas the EU of ‘the global’. Karl Marx once said of reactionary, romantic anti-capitalists that, it is “as ridiculous to yearn for a return to that original fullness as it is to believe that with this complete emptiness history has come to a standstill”. Add to this the legacy of Stalinism and its thesis of “socialism in one country” and one has a thoroughly muddled left-wing nationalism. Central to decent socialist politics is a commitment to a fully democratic, alternative globalisation, with international workers’ solidarity that brings down borders rather than erects or cements them: a global democratic union of localities that sublates the radical possibilities born from global capitalism – its infrastructure, wealth, resources, and gravediggers – out of capitalism into an equal and just society.

Who are the people that vote for leave? Can you characterise this group? Do working class interests play a role in the debate?

The key battle in amongst the working class in England and Wales (Scottish voters are, in the main, likely to vote to stay in the EU). The working class in England and Wales have traditionally voted for Labour, but in recent years have increasingly been attracted to far Right parties like UKIP. Why? This trend is a consequence of the Labour Party drifting rightwards under Tony Blair, the weakness and incompetence of the organised far Left, the defeats of the labour movement, and the mainstreaming of racist anti-immigration discourse. This sociological group will ultimately determine the vote.

In an open letter to Britain Slavoj Žižek writes: “The nation-state is not the right instrument to confront the refugee crisis, global warming, and other truly pressing issues. So instead of opposing Eurocrats on behalf of national interests, let’s try to form an all-European left.” Is that a possibility/solution? What do you think about new movements such as DiEm25 launched by Y. Varoufakis a couple of week ago, which not only are decidedly pro Europe but claim to make “another Europe” possible?

Both Žižek and Varoufakis are generally correct. A pan-European Left which can fight for another Europe, a workers’ Europe, is absolutely central for our class – locally and globally. Is it possible? Yes, absolutely: by mobilising connections through labour movement struggles, trade unions, political left organisations, and so on. The DiEM25 Manifesto is right to assert: “The EU will either be democratized or it will disintegrate!”

Leon Trotsky’s ‘method of analysis’ back in 1917 is as astute then as it is today: “If the capitalist states of Europe succeeded in merging into an imperialist trust, this would be a step forward as compared with the existing situation, for it would first of all create a unified, all-European material base for the working class movement. The proletariat would in this case have to fight not for the return to ‘autonomous’ national states, but for the conversion of the imperialist state trust into a European Republican Federation.” What the EU has constructed is not something we want to blindly bulldoze, its disintegration through a tsunami of racist and xenophobic nationalisms would be a terrible reversal of historical progress. As cosmopolitan internationalists, we are for, echoing Trotsky, a “United States of Europe – without monarchies, standing armies and secret diplomacy”!

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The benighted pseudo-socialism of ‘out of Europe’

I. Introduction

On Saturday 14th May 2016 I attended the Sheffield TUC’s “Europe IN or OUT? The Big Debate”. Maxine Bowler of the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) was the main speaker on the top table for the ‘out’ position. In my contribution from the floor I began by stating my critique of the European Union as a neoliberal capitalist club, which is hostile to migrants and refugees. I reasoned that one can be a fierce critic of the status quo and bureaucracy of the European Union whilst recognising that the alternative actuality of ‘Britain out’, in the face of a deeply chauvinistic wave coalescing through the Brexit campaign, would be a reactionary throwback which will impede the struggle for working class liberation. I then referenced the Marxist tradition (by Marx and Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Gramsci, and others) for a socialist “United States of Europe” – a tradition which has been problematically displaced by Stalinism. Maxine replied: “I am angry that someone has used Marx and Engels to defend the European Union!” So she missed my point. But much worse still, she woefully neglected an important history and compass for the present from supposedly her own tradition. As the debate proceeded, a member of the audience tentatively made a case for ‘Britain out’ on the basis of a need to curb immigration. Maxine responded by making a case for open borders. And herein lies the political incongruity of the Lexit campaign: arguing against a Fortress Europe and for an open Europe, while effectively retreating to (a left-wing) nationalism; arguing against the European Union and for an internationalism, while ineffectively challenging the forces and conditions of existence that are fuelling xenophobia, racism, parochialism, and nationalism. In the fantasy politics minds of its campaigners, Lexit is the subversion of Brexit, yet in reality it is merely an inversion. Moreover, given the tsunami of Brexit, Lexit’s attempt to capsize Brexit continuously fails as wave after wave capsize Lexit.

Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 17.02.27In the Social Worker article “Say no to Fortress Europe – vote leave on 23 June”, the organisation argues:

“the EU isn’t about bringing people together across borders. It’s about bringing together the ruling classes of some countries to compete against the ruling classes of other countries – partly by putting up borders. The EU makes it harder to travel into Europe from Africa, Asia and South America. To do so it promotes scapegoating myths that can then be turned against European migrants. So can its machinery of border control and repression. Building a racist Fortress Europe is central to the EU project. Bringing down that fortress is essential for any real internationalism or anti-racism. Some activists argue that the bigger enemy is “Fortress Britain”. But the two aren’t in competition. Britain’s rulers use the EU to police their own borders.”

If we leave the European Union, further still, if it disintegrates under a tsunami of chauvinistic nationalisms, then what are the conditions of existence to then fight for an open Europe? If we succumb to a form of left-wing nationalism amidst waves of racist, xenophobic English and British nationalism, then what are the conditions of existence for a future of workers’ solidarity across borders? Maxine and other SWP members at the Sheffield debate defined those who spelt out the highly probable consequences of ‘Britain out’ as promoting a “politics of despair”. Instead, they speculated, Boris would oust Cameron, the Tories would look like a joke, the masses would then take to the streets, and socialism would be victorious.

II. The Marxist tradition for a “United States of Europe”

Let’s start with the following historical context, as summated by Cathy Nugent in her article “What do Socialists say about the United States of Europe?”:

“The term ‘United States of Europe’ has its origins in bourgeois democratic thought in the nineteenth century, and was directed at the multi-national absolutist empires such as Austria and Russia. Some of the more far-sighted thinkers envisaged an alternative way in which the European continent could be organised. The Italian republican Giuseppe Mazzini, for instance, saw a United States of Europe as the logical continuation of Italian unification. For the League of Peace and Freedom, a pacifist organisation Victor Hugo, Giuseppe Garibaldi and John Stuart Mill were involved with, a United States of Europe was a way of preventing war. Marx and Engels had their own view of conflict between nations. In the Communist Manifesto in 1848, they anticipated that “in place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency,” capitalism would lead to “intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations.” Engels linked the growth of the workers movement and the increasing influence of Social-Democratic parties to the prospects for maintaining peace. When asked if he anticipated a United States of Europe in 1893, he replied: “Certainly. Everything is making in that direction. Our ideas are spreading in every European country.” (Daily Chronicle June 1893)”

The following is an abridged extract from Leon Trotsky’s “The Programme of Peace” (1917), written in the context of the First World War. Here the politics constructing the demand for a “United States of Europe” are detailed. Trotsky’s method of analysis is highly instructive for the contemporary period.

What Is a Programme of Peace?

[…]

For the revolutionary proletarian the peace programme does not mean the demands which national militarism must fulfil, but those demands which the international proletariat intends to impose by its revolutionary struggle against militarism of all countries.

[…]

Capitalism has transferred into the field of international relations the same methods applied by it in ‘regulating’ the internal economic life of the nations. The path of competition is the path of systematically annihilating the small and medium-sized enterprises and of achieving the supremacy of big capital. World competition of the capitalist forces means the systematic subjection of the small, medium-sized and backward nations by the great and greatest capitalist powers. The more developed the technique of capitalism, the greater the role played by finance capital and the higher the demands of militarism, all the more grows the dependency of the small states on the great powers. This process, forming as it does an integral element of imperialist mechanics, flourishes undisturbed also in times of peace by means of state loans, railway and other concessions, military-diplomatic agreements, etc. The war uncovered and accelerated this process by introducing the factor of open violence. The war destroys the last shreds of the ‘independence’ of small states, quite apart from the military outcome, of the conflict between the two basic enemy camps.

[…]

Status Quo Ante Bellum

But the question is: Can the proletariat under the present circumstances advance an independent peace programme, that is, its own solutions of the problems which caused the current war or which have been disclosed in the course of this war?

We have been told that the proletariat does not now command sufficient forces to bring about the realization of such a programme. Utopian is the hope that the proletariat could realize its own peace programme as a consequence of the present war. Something else again is the struggle for the cessation of the war and for a peace without annexation, i.e., a return to the status quo ante bellum, to the state of affairs prior to the war. This, we are told, is by far the more realistic programme. Such were, for example, the arguments of Martov, Martynov and the Menshevik Internationalists generally, who hold on this question as on all others not a revolutionary but a conservative position […].

[…]

The European status quo ante bellum, the product of wars, robberies, violations, legitimism, diplomatic stupidity and impotence of peoples, remains as the only positive content of the slogan ‘without annexations’.

In its struggle against imperialism, the proletariat cannot set up as its political aim the return to the map of old Europe; it must advance its own programme of state and national relations, corresponding to the fundamental tendencies of economic development, corresponding to the revolutionary character of the epoch and the socialist interests of the proletariat.

[…]

The only acceptable content of the slogan ‘without annexations’ is thus a protest, against new violent acquisitions, which amounts to giving a negative expression to, the right of nations to self-determination. But we have seen that this democratically unquestionable ‘right’ is being and will necessarily be transformed into the right of strong nations to make acquisitions and impose oppression, whereas for the weak nations it will mean an impotent wish or a ‘scrap of paper’. Such will be the case as long as the political map of Europe forces nations and their fractions within the framework of states separated by tariff barriers and continually brought into conflict by the imperialist struggle.

It is possible to overcome this régime only through the proletarian revolution. Thus, the centre of gravity of the question lies in combining the peace programme of the proletariat with that of the social revolution.

[…]

[…] even if by a miracle Europe were divided by force of arms into fixed national states and small states, the national question would not thereby be in the least decided and, the very next day after the ‘just’ national redistributions, capitalist expansion would resume its work. Conflicts would arise, wars and new acquisitions, in complete violation of the national principle in all cases where its preservation cannot be maintained by a sufficient number of bayonets. It would all give the impression of inveterate gamblers being forced to divide the gold ‘justly’ among themselves in the middle of the game, in order to start the same game all over again with redoubled frenzy.

From the might of the centralist tendencies of imperialism, it does not at all follow that we are obliged passively to submit to it. A national community is the living hearth of culture, as the national language is its living organ, and these will still retain their significance through indefinitely long historical periods. The Social Democracy is desirous of safeguarding and is obliged to safeguard to the national community its freedom of development (or dissolution) in the interests of material and spiritual culture. It is in this sense that it has taken over from the revolutionary bourgeoisie the democratic principle of national self-determination as a political obligation.

The right of national self-determination cannot he excluded from the proletarian peace programme; but it cannot claim absolute importance. On the contrary, it is delimited for us by the converging, profoundly progressive tendencies of historical development. If this ‘right’ must be – through revolutionary force – counter-posed to the imperialist methods of centralization which enslave weak and backward peoples and mush the hearths of national culture, then on the other hand the proletariat cannot allow the ‘national principle’ to get in the way of the irresistible and deeply progressive tendency of modern economic life towards a planned organization throughout our continent, and further, all over the globe. Imperialism is the capitalist-thievish expression of this tendency of modern economy to tear itself completely away from the idiocy of national narrowness, as it did previously with regard to local and provincial confinement. While fighting against the imperialist form of economic centralization, socialism does not at all take a stand against the particular tendency as such but, on the contrary, makes the tendency its own guiding principle.

[…]

A national-cultural existence, free of national economic antagonisms and based on real self-determination, is possible only under the roof of a democratically united Europe freed from state and tariff barriers.

[…]

Between our present social condition and socialism there still lies an extended epoch of social revolution, that is, the epoch of the open proletarian struggle for power, the conquest and application of this power with the aim of the complete democratization of social relations, and the systematic transformation of capitalist society into the socialist society. This is the epoch not of pacification and tranquillity but, on the contrary, of the highest intensification of the class struggle, the epoch of popular uprisings, wars, expanding experiments of the proletarian régime, and socialist reforms. This epoch demands of the proletariat, that it give a practical, that is, an immediately applicable answer to the question of the further existence of nationalities and their reciprocal relations with the state and the economy.

The United States of Europe

We tried to prove in the foregoing that the economic and political unification of Europe is the necessary prerequisite for the very possibility of national self-determination. Just as the slogan of national independence of Serbs, Bulgarians, Greeks and others remains an empty abstraction without the supplementary slogan Federative Balkan Republic, which played such an important role in the whole policy of the Balkan Social Democracy; so, on the all-European scale, the principle of the ‘right’ to self-determination can be invested with flesh and blood only under the conditions of a European Federative Republic.

[…]

The Hungarian financial and industrial bourgeoisie is hostile to economic unification with capitalistically more developed Austria. The Austro-Hungarian bourgeoisie is hostile to the idea of a tariff union with more powerful Germany. On the other hand, the German landowners will never willingly consent to the cancellation of grain duties. Furthermore, the economic interests of the propertied classes of the Central Empires cannot be so easily made to coincide with the interests of the English, French, Russian capitalists and landed gentry. The present war, speaks eloquently enough on this score. Lastly, the disharmony and irreconcilability of capitalist interests between the Allies themselves is more visible than in the Central States. Under these circumstances, a halfway complete and consistent economic unification of Europe coming from the top by means of an agreement of the capitalist governments is sheer utopia. Here, the matter can go no further than partial compromises and half-measures. Hence it is that the economic unification of Europe, which offers colossal advantages to producer and consumer alike, and in general to the whole cultural development, becomes the revolutionary task of the European proletariat in its struggle against imperialist protectionism and its instrument – militarism.

The United States of Europe – without monarchies, standing armies and secret diplomacy – is therefore the most important integral part of the proletarian peace programme.

The ideologists and politicians of German imperialism frequently came forward, especially at the beginning of the war, with their programme of a European or at least a Central European ‘United States’ (without France and England on the one side and Russia on the other). The programme of a violent unification of Europe is just as characteristic of the tendencies of German imperialism as is the tendency of French imperialism whose programme is the forcible dismemberment of Germany.

If the German armies achieved the decisive victory reckoned upon in Germany during the first phase of the war, the German imperialism would have doubtless made the gigantic attempt of realizing a compulsory military-tariff union of European states, which would be constructed completely of exemptions, compromises, etc., which would reduce to a minimum the progressive meaning of the unification of the European market. Needless to say, under such circumstances no talk would be possible of an autonomy of the nations, thus forcibly joined together as the caricature of the European United States. Certain opponents of the programme of the United States of Europe have used precisely this perspective as an argument that this idea can, under certain conditions, acquire a “reactionary” monarchist-imperialist content. Yet it is precisely this perspective that provides the most graphic testimony in favour of the revolutionary viability of the slogan of the United States of Europe. Let us for a moment grant that German militarism succeeds in actually carrying out the compulsory half-union of Europe, just as Prussian militarism once achieved the half-union of Germany, what would then be the central slogan of the European proletariat? Would it be the dissolution of the forced European coalition and the return of all peoples under the roof of isolated national states? Or the restoration of “autonomous” tariffs, “national” currencies, “national” social legislation, and so forth? Certainly not. The programme of the European revolutionary movement would then be: The destruction of the compulsory anti-democratic form of the coalition, with the preservation and furtherance of its foundations, in the form of compete annihilation of tariff barriers, the unification of legislation, above all of labour laws, etc. In other words, the slogan of the United States of Europe – without monarchies and standing armies – would under the indicated circumstances become the unifying and guiding slogan of the European revolution.

[…]

If the capitalist states of Europe succeeded in merging into an imperialist trust, this would be a step forward as compared with the existing situation, for it would first of all create a unified, all-European material base for the working class movement. The proletariat would in this case have to fight not for the return to ‘autonomous’ national states, but for the conversion of the imperialist state trust into a European Republican Federation.

[…]

Now, after the so very promising beginning of the Russian revolution, we have every reason to hope that during the course of this present war a powerful revolutionary movement will be launched all over Europe. It is clear that such a movement can succeed and develop and gain victory only as a general European one. Isolated within national borders, it would be doomed to disaster. […] In other words, the founding of a stable régime of proletarian dictatorship would be conceivable only if it extended throughout Europe, and consequently in the form of a European Republican Federation.

[…]

The United States of Europe is the slogan of the revolutionary epoch into which we have entered. Whatever turn the war operations may take later on, whatever balance sheet diplomacy may draw out of the present war, and at whatever tempo the revolutionary movement will progress in the near future, the slogan of the United States of Europe will in all cases retain a colossal meaning as the political formula of the struggle of the European proletariat for power. In this programme is expressed the fact that the national state has outlived itself – as a framework for the development of the productive forces, as a basis for the class struggle, and thereby also as a state form of proletarian dictatorship. Our denial of ‘national defence’, as an outlived political programme for the proletariat, ceases to be a purely negative act of ideological-political self-defence, and acquires all its revolutionary content only in the event that over against the conservative defence of the antiquated national fatherland we place the progressive task, namely the creation of a new, higher ‘fatherland’ of the revolution, of republican Europe, whence the proletariat alone will be enabled to revolutionize and to reorganize the whole world.

Herein, incidentally, lies the answer to those who ask dogmatically. ‘Why the unification of Europe and not of the whole world?’ Europe is not only a geographic term, but a certain economic and cultural-historic community. The European revolution does not have to wait for the revolutions in Asia and Africa nor even in Australia and America. And yet completely victorious revolution in Russia or England is unthinkable without a revolution in Germany, and vice-versa. The present war is called a world war, but even after the intervention of the United States, it is Europe that is the arena of war. And the revolutionary problems confront first of all the European proletariat.

Of course, the United States of Europe will be only one of the two axes of the world organization of economy. The United States of America will constitute the other.

[…]

Generally speaking it must not be forgotten that in social patriotism there is active, in addition to the most vulgar reformism, a national revolutionary messianism, which regards its national state as chosen for introducing to humanity ‘socialism’ or ‘democracy’, be it on the ground of its industrial development or of its democratic form and revolutionary conquests. […] Defending the national basis of the revolution which such methods as undermine the international connections of the proletariat, really amounts to undermining the revolution, which cannot begin otherwise than on the national basis, but which cannot be completed on that basis in view of the present economic and military-political interdependence of the European states, which has never been so forcefully revealed as in this war. The slogan, the United States of Europe, gives expression to this interdependence, which will directly and immediately set the conditions for the concerted action of the European proletariat in the revolution.

[…]

Denying support to the state – not in the name of a propaganda circle but in the name of the most important class in society – in the period of the greatest catastrophe, internationalism does not simply eschew ‘sin’ passively, but affirms that the fate of world development is no longer linked for us with the fate of the national state; more than this, that the latter has become a vise for development and must be overcome, that is, replaced by a higher economic-cultural organization on a broader foundation. If the problem of socialism were compatible with the framework of the national state, then it would thereby become compatible with national defence. But the problem of socialism confronts us on the imperialist foundation, that is, under conditions in which capitalism itself is forced violently to destroy the national-state framework it has itself established.

Returning to Cathy Nugent, in “What do Socialists say about the United States of Europe?”:

“[Trotsky’s] method of posing the question has a bearing on what we say about the EU today. Much like Marxists do not ‘endorse’ the spread of capitalism, and help workers to fight the capitalists every step of the way, we recognise how it creates the possibility of socialism. Similarly, just as Trotsky did not give political support to European unification under German imperialism, we do not take political responsibility for the way in which the European bourgeoisie has unified Europe in its own incomplete and increasingly destructive way. We recognise, however, that European integration provides the terrain on which the European workers’ movement can link up to fight the bosses, and for the levelling up of democratic and social rights. To the capitalist European Union we pose not ‘national sovereignty’ or ‘national development’ but the Socialist United States of Europe.”

III. Conclusion

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The debate on whether to ‘stay or leave’ the European Union desperately requires a reclamation of the tradition of the Left for a socialist “United States of Europe”: the struggle for working class international solidarity and liberation must entail sharp opposition to both a neoliberal capitalist, bureaucratic, and undemocratic European Union and a chauvinistic retreat to competition between national neoliberal capitalisms, and the demand for a democratic workers’ Europe.

We live in a deeply globalised world, in which the power of capital is huge, but capital contains its own gravediggers. The idea that capital’s gravediggers are best positioned to hammer a blow to capital by de-globalising is a flawed one, rather our positioning too must be globalised. We want to be seizing the means and resources of globalisation for ourselves for our collective betterment. Global capitalism is contradictory: it throws up closures and openings, constraints and radical possibilities. Our task is to move from the present to the future, not to reverse the present into the past; our job is to identify the conditions of existence that provide our class with the greatest possibility of making that political move forward. On this note, I’ll end with the words of Marx and Engels from the Communist Manifesto:

“The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature. […] The essential conditions for the existence and for the sway of the bourgeois class is the formation and augmentation of capital; the condition for capital is wage-labour. Wage-labour rests exclusively on competition between the labourers. The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by the revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers.”

Anaemic on a Thorn Audax Mk3: my review

“I’m old school and I believe that many cyclists still seek a bike that’s made to last. I continue to believe that being durable is a positively good thing!” (Andy Blance, co-founder of Thorn Cycles)

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My Thorn Audax Mk3, ridden on my 40th, on the approach to High Bradfield in Sheffield.

I’m already the proud owner of a 2012 Ridgeback Voyage tourer, which has proven its worth both on day rides of long distances and steep climbs and as a commuter bicycle; it’s the latter which it has morphed into given its sturdy build and reliable handling, and especially now that my 40th birthday present to myself has arrived: a 2016 Thorn Audax Mk3 tourer. The Thorn Audax is a nippy bike in comparison. It is remarkably lightweight for steel (approximately 10.9 kg) and has a gear range which makes any high gradient ascent conquerable while allowing for fun cruise speeds on lower gradients and descents – as such, this is a touring bike which feels like a racing bike. On its inaugural ride (Chris’s Spin), it was tested up some of the most challenging ascents – Mam Nick and Monsal Head – and descents in the Peak District and managed superbly (with the help of course of its anaemic rider!) This is a highly versatile bike for rides into the hilly countryside, which is precisely what I bought it for. I was looking for something a little lighter and a little faster than the Ridgeback, and the Thorn Audax excels on both counts.

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And then there’s the whole Thorn experience! Thorn is a bespoke touring bike manufacturer based in Somerset. I ordered this bike via telephone and email. The detail requested and the attention paid by the folks down at Thorn was exceptional: what they delivered (literally in a box!) was a high-quality, perfectly fitted bicycle that translates into a majestical first-class riding experience. Very important to me is Thorn’s approach to cycling and bicycle production, its ethos, which is commendable. I’ll end this review with the following two extracts – “Steel is real!” and “Does weight matter?” – from the Thorn Mega Brochure:

I. Steel is real!

[…] If you race, you need a racing bike and, if you’re any good – not only will someone buy it for you – they’ll also pay you to ride it! If you don’t race, why on earth would you want a racing bike? Would you buy a twitchy and demanding track day car, such as a Caterham, as an everyday vehicle? It rains in the UK – why would you be prepared to suffer a wet bum and tolerate tyres which puncture easily – or do you stick to smooth but busy, “A” roads? […] In my opinion, high quality steel is the best possible material for a strong, comfortable, well equipped, and long lasting frame. […] All Thorn frames use high quality, heat-treated steel. I wouldn’t wish to build our bikes with anything else and I don’t want anything else for my own bikes! The final heat treatment process can double the cost of a steel cycle tube. Heat treatment raises the UTS (ultimate tensile strength) significantly – this makes the tubes stronger and more resistant to cracking. Heat treatment also makes the tubes more resistant to denting and greatly enhances the frame’s resilience. Resilience can be defined technically as, the ability of a material to absorb energy when it’s deformed and then release that energy upon unloading. In a high quality bicycle frame, it manifests itself to the cyclist as a tight, springy sensation. […]

OTHER MODERN FRAME MATERIALS

Aluminium frames

Cheap (thick-walled) aluminium framesThese frames are very strong, they could have the fittings required on a touring bike and they should last a lifetime but they are heavy, very uncomfortable and they have a “dead” feel. Have you ever heard of an Aluminium spring?

Expensive (thin walled) aluminium framesThese frames are less uncomfortable and they are quite light but they can’t have the fittings required for touring and they break! Dealing with a broken lightweight aluminium frame is easy – recycle it into bottle tops!

Carbon frames

Carbon makes a perfect spring; Carbon fibre frames can be very lightweight and very durable – as long as you don’t scratch them – a gouge in a carbon frame is a catastrophic failure waiting to happen. I’d have no hesitation using one for racing – if I raced – and of course, if somebody else was paying for it! Try Googling “cracked carbon” and see what pictures you get! It’s difficult to manufacture a carbon frame with luggage carrier bosses – I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, when I see a “cool” carbon road racing frame being used for lightweight touring – I see rattling mudguards, held on with cable ties, which have been known to suddenly jam in the wheel, precipitating an instant cart wheel, followed by a face plant. I see mega heavy alloy seat post-fitting (seat post breaking?) carriers with loads being carried, which are too high and too far back for stability. Alternatively, I see no provision for luggage at all; as the day warms up, the rider end up looking like a cricket umpire, with clothing tied around their waist – how cool is that – in both senses of the word? With most of these adapted road racing frames, I frequently see the dangers and difficulties associated with toe overlap.

Titanium frames

I hear it said that Titanium frames ride like steel frames. That’s true – in my opinion, a top quality Ti frame is almost as nice to ride as a top quality steel frame! It can be argued that Titanium can be used to make springs but until Samurai swords or GLOBAL kitchen knives are made from titanium, I will continue to believe that steel is a superior material for many applications. Titanium is two-thirds of the weight of steel – but even the top quality, cycle-specific tubes are much less stiff. To make a frame which is as stiff as a good, high quality steel frame, requires a larger volume of material, which erodes most of the weight saving! The majority of customers however want and expect, a weight saving with a Ti frame, therefore they end up with a frame which isn’t stiff enough – this not only wastes energy – it can sometimes give a scary ride down steep hills – particularly if it’s a short wheelbase frame with road racing geometry!

Low grade Titanium. Most of the titanium tubes used in frame building today are not only very low grade – they’re also “plain gauge tubes” which have been manufactured from a sheet of rolled and welded material i.e. it’s not butted at all and it most certainly does have a seam! If low grade steel is nicknamed “gas pipe”, these tubes ought to be called “cooling pipe”. Such tubes may be an improvement on “gas pipe” steel but they’re far inferior to top quality steel, unless, of course, they are actually being used in the cooling system of a reactor! If a new Ti frame costs less than £2000, then low grade, plain gauge, rolled and strip welded Titanium is, almost certainly, all that’s being offered! Spending lots of money is no guarantee of quality either – there are some unscrupulous people around! Such frames remind me of Hans Christian Andersen’s Classic fairy tale; “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.

Top quality Titanium. Cold drawn, seamless, double butted, 6-4 grade Titanium is very, very expensive, it makes a very fine road racing frame – I’d prefer such a Ti frame to a Carbon frame – but once again, only if I actually raced and of course, only if someone else was paying for it! I don’t race, I want and need, a touring bike and it’s either impossible, or ridiculously expensive, to make a touring frame, with the required fittings, from high quality butted Ti. Furthermore, all high quality Ti frames, that I’ve known, have also broken! Titanium has a much higher scrap value than steel, which could be good news, because it’s usually impossible to make a repair, which has lasting structural integrity, to a cracked Ti frame. Try Googling “cracked titanium” and see what pictures you get! Perhaps there are some proper titanium road racing frames, being made today, or which may be made in the future, that won’t break – but I doubt it. It’s even less likely that anyone would commission a (heavier) cold drawn, seamless, double butted, 6-4 grade Ti tube set, with the slightly thicker walls necessary to make it less likely to crack, when it’s subjected to touring loads and forces. I certainly wouldn’t want to risk such a huge sum of my own money – when steel is almost as light, is much more durable and could be easily repaired if necessary. Steel rides better, is relatively inexpensive and a steel frame can have all the fittings you require – no wonder we say: STEEL IS REAL!

II. Does weight matter?

In the real world, what is the cost, in terms of energy expenditure, of riding a slightly heavier bike? If you disregard rolling resistance and aerodynamics (which I discuss elsewhere) the equation used for calculating energy is:

Kinetic Energy (KE) = 1⁄2MV2

Thus, a 75Kg cyclist, with 5Kg of luggage on an 11Kg bike, would use on average 202W of power to accelerate from 0 to 24Kph (15mph) in 10 seconds – if the same cyclist, wearing the same clothes and riding in an identical position, had a 6.5Kg bike and carried no luggage, they could reach 24Kph in 9 seconds, from a standing start, for the energy expenditure of 204W.

If you used all the bits from a 6.5Kg Tour de France bike on one of our medium sized Audax frames, you’d swap a 1kg frame for a 2.1Kg frame – you could use the same carbon fork. This would mean that our Audax bike would weigh 7.6Kg. The fact that the components would be unsuitable for use as reliable transport, is irrelevant to this comparison.

Let’s see the difference in energy expenditure between a 75Kg rider, with no luggage, riding from 0 to 24Kph in ten seconds on each of the above bikes. I will disregard rolling and air resistances, because they will be virtually identical in both cases.

A 75Kg rider, on a 6.5 kg bike, would use 181.1W.

A 75Kg rider, on a 7.5 kg bike, would use 183.5W.

That’s less than a 1.31% difference. Once up to speed, given identical riding positions and identical tyres, there’s virtually no difference whatsoever in the amount of energy required to maintain this speed – on a flat road – apart from the aerodynamics of the frame itself. A nice, slim steel frame is almost certainly more aerodynamic than a mid range, fat carbon frame – now there’s a thought!

Israel is not exceptional, look at Pakistan

Gush Shalom

Gush Shalom

At the age of nineteen, soon after I joined the organisation Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, I remember entering the students’ union at Newcastle University while being heckled by a member of the Socialist Workers’ Party, who called me “a fucking Zionist”. I confess, at that moment, I had no idea what the word Zionist meant, but I gathered immediately that it was a left-wing slur: the delivery felt just as venomous in its derogatory intent to being called, by racists, “a fucking Paki”. Soon after, I learnt more about my organisation’s ‘two nations, two states’ position on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a stand-alone position in relation to the majority of the rest of the British revolutionary Left.

Over the years since, the unease I have had with much of the revolutionary and academic Left vis-à-vis the Palestinian-Israeli conflict stems from their historical and contemporary representation of Israel as a uniquely demonic state. There are several features of this, which I have observed:

  • The conflation of the Israeli state and military to the entire population of Israel;
  • A writing-off of the Israeli working class;
  • A litmus test for sections of Israeli society (take, for instance, Israeli academics) to prove themselves as properly critical of Israel (a test not required of any other academics in any other nation-state);
  • A definition of Jewish nationalism, i.e. Zionism, as colonialism, imperialism, and racism;
  • An equivalence of the nation-state of Israel proper to apartheid South Africa;
  • An equivalence of the Israeli state and military to Nazi Germany;
  • A proposal to ‘logically undo’ the existence of the nation-state of Israel (cloaked under the demand for one secular Palestinian state / one shared space, or the right of return).

This singling out, this conflation, this testing, this writing-off, and this equivalence of exceptional barbarity, all signify a particular, left-wing anti-Semitism: is no other nation-state in the world racist and exclusionary? Is no other nation-state in the world guilty of oppressing minority groups inside and/or outside of its territory? Is no other nation-state in the world expansionist and imperialist? Is there any other working class in the world which is dismissed as non-existent or too-far-gone? Is there no other working class in the world that succumbs to the reactionary ideas of their hegemonic state? Is there any other nation-state in the world that is demanded to be undone?

The following two sections offer an interesting juxtaposition. In section I, I identify the dominant leftist narrative on the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as found in the academic social sciences literature. In section II, I quote extracts of two articles (one from India’s The Hindu newspaper and the other from The Washington Post) that compare Pakistan to Israel. There is no room for section II in the narrative of section I since Israel as a modern nation-state is deemed exceptional.

The crimes committed by the Israeli state and military against the Palestinians, the colonial occupation and expansionism outside of Israel proper into the West Bank and Gaza, and the perpetual denial of a meaningful ‘two nations, two states’ settlement on pre-1967 borders by the Israeli ruling class (and its growing religious fundamentalist wing) must be condemned, and solidarity with the secular Palestinian plight for their own nation-state must be made. All of this is possible without exceptionalising Israel.

 

I. ‘Israel is exceptional in its unique equivalence to South African apartheid and Nazi fascism’, so says the cross-Atlantic academic Left…

The cross-Atlantic academic Left offers a particular history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that has much in common with a dominant section of the revolutionary Left. A central theme is that of a premeditated Zionist ethnic cleansing. This takes up and develops the new historian Pappé’s (2006) call for the paradigm of war to be replaced with a paradigm of ethnic cleansing in scholarly and public debate on 1948, in order to redress the erasure of this Zionist crime from global memory and conscience. In other words, Pappé (2006, page 9) rejects the notion that the exile of three-quarters of a million Palestinians was an outcome of the 1948 war itself, but rather “the result of long and meticulous planning” by the Zionists to ethnic cleanse the Palestinian population. He reveals the objective of a Zionist “Plan D” as the systematic elimination of Palestinians from Palestinian territory in order to make possible the nation-state of Israel, with the 1948 war providing the means to carry this out (Pappé, 2006, page 6). Following Pappé’s call, Finkelstein (2002) argues that the 1948 war was exploited by the Zionists in a manner similar to the Serbian ethnic cleansing in Kosovo during the 1999 NATO intervention. Falah (2003, page 206) characterises this “ethnic cleansing” as part of a pre-1948 Zionist ‘enclaving’ of Palestinian land that combined immigration and land purchase, military terrorism, a strategy of creating ‘facts on the ground’, and a settlement frontier, wherein the early Zionist settlers, Said (1985) contends, either totally overlooked the Palestinians or actively plotted to get rid of them.

On the character of Zionism and the nation-state of Israel, the cross-Atlantic academic left narrative asserts, “[t]he Zionist dream of uniting the diaspora in a Jewish state was by its very nature a colonial project” (Gregory, 2004a, page 78; see also: Anderson, 2001; Falah, 1996, 2003, 2004; Khalidi, 2003; Piterberg, 2001; Said, 1985). The assessment of the pre-1948 relationship of British imperialism to Zionism ranges from that of “an unambiguous product of inter-imperialist calculation” (Anderson, 2001, page 7) to that of “Janus-faced” collaboration (Gregory, 2004a, page 80). Anderson (2001, page 15) claims that “the imperial baton” passed from Britain to the United States in 1948, whereas Gregory (2004a, page 77) suggests “fitful” interest on the part of US imperialism until the 1967 war. Nonetheless, consensus exists on the post-1967 era, in which the link between the Israeli nation-state, the US Zionist lobby, and US imperialism is given high significance: particularly in “the unprecedented munificence that the United States bestows on Israel”, that is, “the moral equivalent of a blank cheque to do what it likes” (Said, 1986, page 79; see also: Said, 2000). Given the Zionist intention to expel on a mass scale was “inherent” long before 1948 (Piterberg, 2001, page 34), the nation-state of Israel is thus defined as originating in “racist national ideals” cloaked “often in ‘socialist’ guise” (Falah, 2003, page 187) – a semblance made of the early kibbutzim settlement (see: Said, 1985), for instance. It is claimed that, while many Israelis continue to desire the expulsion of Palestinians, ethnic cleansing is now no longer a politically viable option so apartheid takes its place (Finkelstein, 2002). Israel’s legal foundations (specifically, the Law of Return, the Nationality Law, the status of present-absentees, and the prevention of the right of return for Palestinian refugees) are seen as a continued part of a pre-1948 quest for national and racial purity which is “tantamount to organized discrimination or persecution” akin to apartheid South Africa and/or Nazi Germany (Said, 1985, page 41; see also: Falah, 2003; Finkelstein, 2002; Piterberg, 2001). [For further comparison of the ideology and practice of Israel (including the Israeli Defence Force) with that of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, see, for instance, Graham (2002, 2003); Gregory (2004a); Jamoul (2004); and Roy (2002). On the unique ‘democratic fascism’ of the Zionist state and military, see Falah (2001).]

In conclusion, for Gregory (2004a, page 138), echoing Said (1985), the Palestinian-Israeli conflict comes down to a question of “justice” for the Palestinians. Gregory (2004b, page 602) argues that “the key date” for “many on the Israeli Left” is not 1948 (like for the majority of the Palestinians) but 1967, yet this latter war (occupying, to date, the West Bank and Gaza Strip) was merely further military advance by Israel. In other words, the outcome of the 1948 war, the al Nakba, was and remains a colonial occupation of Palestine (Falah, 2003; Gregory, 2004b; Sidaway 2000; Young 2001), and the ultimate issue on the conflict is one of redress and liberation for the injured, oppressed, and occupied side. Because Israel is historically based on a principle of return and non-return for Jews and Arabs respectively, if this disappeared, Piterburg (2001, page 36) postulates, the Zionist nation-state of Israel would “lose its identity”. Or, as put by Karmi (2007), one should question why this nation-state continues to exist at all.

 

II. Israel is not exceptional, take, for example, a comparison to Pakistan…

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From “Separated at birth” by Saif Shahin, published in The Hindu newspaper in 2012:

Violent partition

Both Pakistan and Israel were carved out through partitions of historically and culturally unified territories within a year of each other: Pakistan in August 1947 and Israel in May 1948. Pakistan was created by splitting the Indian subcontinent, tearing asunder people who, while belonging to different religions, shared a common cultural heritage and had together fought their war of Independence. It created fissures even within ethnic communities – Punjabis in the west, Bengalis in the east and, a year later, Kashmiris in the north. The same happened when Israel was carved out of historical Palestine, dividing Arabs to the west of the Jordan river for the first time.

Two, neither partition was peaceful. Hundreds of thousands of people had to leave their homes in both instances to become refugees in what, just days earlier, had been their own land. Pakistan’s creation saw more than 10 million people migrate on either side of the border, many driven away by their neighbours. Nearly a million are believed to have died in the pogroms that ensued. While eloquent espousals of nationalism and patriotism poured out of leaders at bully pulpits, the slit throats of citizens spattered blood in the streets.

Israel’s creation was similarly gory. More than 700,000 Palestinians were hounded out of their homes by Zionist militias in what the Arabs have since called the Nakba, or catastrophe. Thousands perished. Many migrated to West Bank, Gaza and the refugee camps of Lebanon, Jordan and the Sinai; many others fled to Europe and the United States – places from where harried Jews had been moving to Palestine in preceding decades to escape persecution. One diaspora replaced another, and Arab became the new Jew of the West. The irony was profound.

Three, neither Pakistan nor Israel has clearly defined its borders since its creation. It’s not just that their neighbours don’t agree with them, but both these nations have themselves stopped short of stating precisely where they want their borders to be. While India categorically specifies the borders it claims in Kashmir, Pakistan’s position is ambiguous at best. It calls the portion it conquered in 1947-48 “Azad Kashmir” (Independent Kashmir), but Pakistan’s army exercises even more control over the lives of Azad Kashmiris than over the average Pakistani. It even has an Azad Kashmir Regiment – headquartered in Punjab.

Israel has also desisted from stating exactly how large or small it intends to be. For more than 20 years, even the Palestinian Authority has recognised the so-called Green Line – which defined Israeli territory until the 1967 war – as the international border subject to a two-state solution (that would create a Palestinian state). Israel itself, however, does not recognise the Green Line anymore. Nor does it say where it would draw its own Line, all the while grabbing more land in the West Bank for Jewish settlements.

Four, both Pakistan and Israel have fought wars of aggression against neighbours. The India-Pakistan conflicts of 1947-48, 1965 and 1999 were the result of Pakistani aggression. It also waged a proxy war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, a misadventure from which it is yet to dissociate itself. Israel’s wars are still more numerous. It attacked Egypt in 1956, Lebanon in 1982 and 2006, and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza on numerous occasions. Gaza remains under Israeli siege even today.

Dominated by religion, military

Five, being born in blood and bred in wars, both Pakistan and Israel have developed societies and polities that are dominated by religion and the military. The green uniform has been at the helm of Pakistan’s affairs for nearly half its independent history, and lords over politicians even when not formally in charge. Its hand has been strengthened by the appropriation of Islam as a political ideology, and the nation is effectively run by a nexus of generals and mullahs.

Israel’s military has similarly clawed its way into the heart of the nation’s society and politics in the name of protecting its Jewish character. Making a name for yourself in wars is the surest way to a successful political career, ministerial posts and prime ministership. Just like Pakistan, Israel seems to be run by a league of generals and rabbis.

Six, both Pakistan and Israel nurture exclusivist national identities, concerned more with who does not belong to them than with who does. Created as a homeland for Muslims, Pakistan has always treated Hindus, Sikhs and other non-Muslims as second-class citizens. But that isn’t all.

Various categories of Muslims – migrants from India, Ahmadis, Shias, Baluchis and so on – have also found it difficult to integrate into Pakistani society and are perpetually blamed for all its social and political ills.

Israel was created as a homeland for Jews, and it treats Arabs as second-class citizens. But many Jews too – black Jews, Sephardic Jews, Mizrahi Jews, Russian-origin Jews and so on – face rampant discrimination. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis of Jewish ancestry are simply not considered Jews by law and struggle to be a part of Israeli society.

Benedict Anderson has called nations “imagined communities,” comprising people who share a deep bond of unity even with those they have never met or do not personally know. But Pakistan and Israel exhibit an extraordinary lack of imagination in the construction of their nationhood. Exclusivist identities, religious chauvinism, military dominance and a history of belligerence have rendered them societies that are perpetually at war – with their neighbours and with themselves. Their own uncertainty over their borders betrays this existential insecurity.

From “The Pakistani origins of the Israeli state” by Ishaan Tharoor, published in The Washington Post in 2014:

“Pakistan is like Israel, an ideological state,” said then Pakistani President Zia ul-Haq in 1981. “Take out the Judaism from Israel and it will fall like a house of cards. Take Islam out of Pakistan and make it a secular state; it would collapse.” It’s a strange thing to think about now. Pakistan and Israel are, on the face of it, not kindred spirits. […] But Zia, an instrumental figure in the Islamization of Pakistani society, was saying something quite obvious: Pakistan and Israel are historical twins.

They emerged as independent states one after the other – Pakistan in 1947, Israel in 1948 – following the retreat of the British empire. They were born in blood: Pakistan in the grisly Partition that cleaved British India in two, Israel in the battles of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. And ideologically, as Zia noted, they were both states whose raison d’etre was religion, or at least religious identity. Pakistan was dreamed up as a haven for Indian Muslims, a state that transcended geography itself with a western and eastern wing suspended in between thousands of miles of India. […] Israel was the product of decades of Zionist activism, brought into being after the horrors of the Holocaust as a homeland for Europe’s tormented Jewry. Even this cause had an echo in South Asia. Pakistan’s founding father Mohammad Ali Jinnah was well-versed in the Zionist plight, since he too wanted to make a nation out of a religious community. As the Oxford historian Faisal Devji writes in his book “Muslim Zion: Pakistan as a Political Idea,” Jinnah “seems to have possessed more books on the problems of European Jewry than on any Muslim people or country.” That’s not too surprising, given that Jinnah was not particularly religious and envisioned a Pakistani nation that, while defined by Islam, was not necessarily governed by its laws. A similar secular theme ran through the Israeli state.

More tellingly, Pakistan made a direct impression on Israel’s rulers in the first years of the country’s existence. In a Haaretz article excerpting work from a new book on Israel and the question of apartheid, South African-born author Benjamin Pogrund explored how Israel followed Pakistan’s lead when it came to administering lands and property captured from the Palestinians who had lived there before. Pogrund writes of the challenge that faced David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, in 1948:

“In the government debates to decide what to do with the Arab “abandoned property,” the prime minister’s special adviser on land and border demarcation, Zalman Lifshitz, argued for the permanent use of refugee property for the political and economic benefit of the new state. He said that countries in similar situations, such as Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia, had taken on vast powers to liquidate refugee property for state use and he urged the Israeli government “to proceed in a similar manner” as “there is no shortage of precedents.””

The laws Lifshitz got enacted in 1949, Pogrund writes, were “based squarely” on Pakistani precedent. During Partition, millions of Hindus and Sikhs had fled what became Pakistan, leaving behind property and assets that could be appropriated on behalf of the millions of Muslim refugees streaming in from the other side of the border. For Lifshitz, Pogrund explains, a similar solution made sense for Israel’s Jewish arrivals.

“It cannot be said if Lifshitz was aware of the irony of the new Jewish state using the legal techniques of a new Muslim state to deprive its own mainly Muslim refugees of their properties. Whichever, he proposed “a new law, similar to the… Pakistani regulations and based on the principles they contain.” Pakistani lawmakers, he noted, had drawn on Britain’s Trading with the Enemy Act, but had also introduced new elements to assist expropriation and transfer of ownership: they had created a mechanism for seizing Hindu and Sikh refugee property in Pakistan and its reallocation for the settlement of Muslim refugees from India.”

This curious irony could be chalked off as a quirk of history. But both Israel and Pakistan are still grappling with their fragile ideological identities to this day. Jinnah’s dream has so far proved illusory: in 1971, East Pakistan split away following a brutal revolutionary war and became the independent state of Bangladesh. Ethnic and linguistic nationalism trumped a pan-Islamic identity. Subsequent Pakistani governments have both encouraged rampant Islamism and then struggled to contain its extremist, militant off-shoots. In Israel, the question of how to reconcile with the Arabs on its borders and in its midst remains as potent and vexing now as it did more than half a century ago. As WorldViews has written about before, the right-wing government of current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has shown little will to enable the creation of a viable Palestinian state. Some of Netanyahu’s allies have specifically ruled it out. And Netanyahu himself is attempting to push through a controversial law that would cement Israel’s status as a “Jewish nation-state,” privileging the collective rights of Israeli Jews over the interests of Israeli minorities. It’s a proposal that plays well among Israel’s right-wing, including communities of settlers living in the West Bank. But it has its critics, too. “Israelis not in the thrall of settler fanaticism need to decide whether they want to be part of the democratic Western world or not,” wrote Israeli intellectual Bernard Avishai in the New Yorker this week. He then offered this tidy comparison: “The Jewish nation-state law puts the choice starkly: a globalist Hebrew republic or a little Jewish Pakistan.”

 

Acknowledgement

My sincere thanks to comrade Omar Raii for alerting me to the Tharoor article.

Further recommended reading / listening by me (Camila Bassi)

Bassi C, 2011, “The inane politics of Tony Cliff.” Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism 3(2), 1601-1610 

Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: what should the Left say?

Workers’ Liberty resources

Is Israel like apartheid South Africa?

Zionism, anti-semitism and the left

Boycott Israel?

Israel-Palestine: Two Nations, Two States!

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