Anti-Racism as Procedure

JVL Introduction

Labour has published its predictably box-ticking and potentially dangerous ‘Action Plan for Driving out Antisemitism in the Labour Party’ in response to the EHRC.

As it happens the best response to this depressing political minefield comes in an article from a new US Jewish magazine ‘Protocols’.

With a commendable and angry intransigence Michael Richmond exposes the roots of official state ‘antiracism’ of which the EHRC is a diluted remnant.

He exposes the self-regarding humbug about British ‘traditions of tolerance’ as a crude and unconvincing prettification of a past and present rooted and drenched in colonialism, slavery and racism. ‘The age of top-down “anti-racism” and “diversity” is the age of Brexit, police killings, prison expansion, and refugees dying in the Channel.’

He denounces ‘the white supremacy of a “top-down anti-racism” that uses Jews as human shields to thwart other liberation struggles’. He quotes Alana Lentin that the “official, top-down anti-racism” — so crystallised by political and media approaches to “Labour antisemitism” — “sets antisemitism up as the threat to end all threats. This does not … result in an end to antisemitism. Rather, antisemitism is left intact while all other racisms within the racial state are denied.”

Richmond concludes that ‘A weakness in recent years has been a widely held expectation that the Labour Party could ever be a meaningful vehicle to fight racism. In movements and organizations that are ours, we can make mistakes, do the political education, and grow together. We can hold each other accountable. It is struggle, and only struggle, that has shown the capacity to force change from the white supremacist state. Social movements, class struggle, and insurrection are where hope lies — and solidarity is all we have.’

SM

This article was originally published by Protocols on Thu 17 Dec 2020. Read the original here.

Anti-Racism as Procedure

At the end of October, Great Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published their report on antisemitism in the Labour Party. The report states that the investigation had been prompted by “growing public concern” about “the Labour Party’s handling of antisemitism,” which “had grown since 2015.” Complaints were filed to the body by some Jewish organizations, both inside and outside of the Party. The report itself is very much a legalistic document, focused largely on whether Labour had breached equalities legislation. It is critical of the Party’s handling of complaints of antisemitism and blames “failures of leadership.” The EHRC cite regular “political interference,” judging that interventions by the leader’s office (often to expedite punishments rather than impede cases) had led to an inconsistent process lacking transparency and unfair to accused and complainant alike.¹ Delays, poor communication, and bad record-keeping were also criticized, as was inadequate training for staff. The EHRC noted only two lawful breaches, as they could only hold the Party responsible for people employed by or representing it. They cited insufficient evidence in some cases, but underlined that there were many other instances of ordinary Party members being antisemitic, sometimes (although rarely) including Holocaust denial and Nazi-sympathizing. Other examples mentioned are “Rothschilds” and other Jewish banker conspiracies,  nationalist preoccupations with Jewish loyalty to a “foreign power,” and overdetermined, outsized depictions of Israel as a hyper-imperial power with control over other, more powerful, national governments — effected through the “Israel lobby,” or even “Jewish lobby.”²

The Labour Party has been told they must come up with an “Action Plan” and follow the recommendations laid out by the EHRC, who did concede that the Party had improved their procedures.³ The solutions offered in the report included instructions that Labour change its code of conduct, party handbook, and make things more visible on its website. The suggestion of introducing “independent processes” and “independent oversight” are presented as something of a panacea.

Futility of training as a cure

British politics regularly follows crises with “independent” commissions, reports, reviews, and inquiries, usually headed by some Lord or Sir, with little good coming from it. In the case of Labour antisemitism, the EHRC recommended that the collection and analysis of data would be a surefire way to track progress of improvements made. The other main solution proposed was “training” — to train the racism out of individual guilty members; to train staff monitoring claims; to train the racism out of the Party.

This is anti-racism as procedure — a search for legal and bureaucratic fixes to a localized outbreak, so that a never-clean institution can be given a clean bill of health again. It shows no interest in what racism is or where it comes from. Antisemitism is barely defined beyond how it interacts with equalities law and party management. How can such an approach possibly rid society of racism? All racism?

The EHRC emerged from the remnants of a “race relations” architecture constructed by Labour and Conservative governments in the 1960s and ‘70s. It is a state body tasked with promoting and enforcing equalities legislation — specifically, Equalities Acts passed by Labour in 2006 and the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition in 2010. The newly formed EHRC absorbed the functions of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) in 2007, though its remit was expanded to cover all forms of discrimination. Lord Ouseley, a “race relations” professional, explained that Tony Blair’s government wanted “to demolish the CRE and absorb it into the Equality and Human Rights Commission…a symbolic edifice for equalities’ high-level blue-sky waffling.” The EHRC budget has been progressively gutted over the years, while executive salaries have presumably soared. All the while, any impact on British racism remains negligible. What the EHRC say about themselves guides us toward their conception of racism:

In the antisemitism report too, the authors show themselves to be motivated by this quaint, idealistic, and entirely false reading of British history. The early pages frame the report around the importance of trusting politicians and political parties, and this being crucial to “democracy.” They implore that in a Britain renowned for “tolerance,” politicians have a responsibility to set an example, to challenge racism. Yet every governing era in the entire history of Britain is underpinned by structural racism, whether slavery, colonialism, immigration controls, racial divisions of labour, and on and on. They mention in passing that “while this investigation considered discrimination and harassment in one political party, such matters are by no means an issue for the Labour Party alone.”

Rae relations as an antidote to immigration controls

The CRE, the body dissolved into the EHRC in 2007, was set up by the 1976 Race Relations Act passed by James Callaghan’s Labour government. The CRE was itself the amalgamation of two previous mediating bodies that judged cases of racial discrimination: the Community Relations Committee and Race Relations Board. They did so even-handedly by occasionally prosecuting fringe fascists but also targeting Black Power activists deemed to be “stirring up racial hatred against white people.” Claims of “reverse racism” or “anti-white racism” are not new and are made inevitable by the British state’s historical approach to “race relations.”

Race Relations Acts were passed in 1965, 1968, 1976 and are still brandished today as evidence of the Labour Party’s anti-racist credentials. The 1965 Act barely covered or enforced anything and was only somewhat strengthened in 1968. More importantly, this “anti-discrimination” focus was consciously tied to an intensification of border controls. New immigration laws passed in 1962, 1968 and 1971 attempted to bring non-white immigration to an end (with trade union support), helping to discipline and segment the working class. The logic was always to limit “numbers” — the great, insoluble obsession of British immigration debates — while making minor gestures towards improving the rights and conditions of Black and Asian migrants and placing the onus on them to “integrate.”

This did not arise from government conscience, of course. Anti-discrimination laws were extracted by civil rights and Black Power campaigns and struggles in streets, communities, and workplaces. One must consider how racist we know 1960s and 1970s Britain to have been in order to imagine how toothless this “anti-discrimination” architecture was. This was a Britain in which colour bars, maintained both by white unions and bosses, enforced a rigid racial division of labour. Racist violence by white gangs (especially the police) was a popular sport. Blackface was primetime entertainment and would remain so for decades. Landlords refused to rent to Black and Asian people, and often Jews as well.

This “anti-discrimination” architecture was an attempt to separate race from immigration, excising “race relations” from histories of colonialism and white supremacy. It was an attempt to replace international movements for decolonization and anti-racism with a national project of equal rights, “integration,” and “diversity.” It was a system constructed not to fight or eradicate but to manage racism and to blunt resistance to it, including by separating race from class. Leading British Black Power figure Darcus Howe wrote in Race Today in 1974 that this early “race relations industry” was premised on a “portrayal of the black population as ‘helpless victims.’” But, Howe explains, the “self-activity of the masses” of “Caribbean and Asian peoples” tore this notion apart.

The project of “race relations” also opened paths for the uneven integration of racialized people into the national project. Gradually, Black and Asian Brits could enter the army, police, and political parties in larger numbers. Further class stratification within racialized “communities” developed. Separations opened up with different waves of migrants becoming terraced by migration status and an intensifying border regime. Some even began to trust that the system could be fair, that it was working for Brits like them. All the while specific forms of racism persisted, things that even class ascension could not protect against.

“Race relations” bodies were effective at co-opting and depoliticizing anti-racist struggles, often extending state funding and exerting influence over community projects and Black activists. In response to militant struggle in the Black Power movement of the 1970s and the youth uprisings of the early 1980s, the state sought to fracture and fragment the basis of those struggles and the alliances that gave them strength.

The state, the courts, the police, even employers were established as neutral arbiters of racism. Of course, the worst racial violence in human history has been legal, and enforced by states, and remains so. A racism conceived of only as extreme speech acts, as individual crimes, as words and thoughts can never confront the worst work of “race.” This severing of racism in Britain from its roots in colonialism and from the power of the state would help to define it as a timeless, transhistorical phenomenon that could be directed by any individual against any other individual, regardless of social position.

Labour’s “anti-racism tradition”

A common refrain in recent years has been references to the Labour Party’s “anti-racist” history and traditions. This mythology has been used by those on the center and right of the Party to cast what they saw as the specific antisemitism of the Corbyn era as an aberration. Labour’s “anti-racism” was also spoken of by many on the left of the Party to defend the socialist traditions from which Corbynism emerged. But any claim that the Labour Party, at any point in its history, has been definitively anti-racist comes from the same historical amnesia as the EHRC’s starting point of British “tolerance.” The left in Britain, generally speaking, is remarkably blind, complacent, and moralistic in its approach to racism, which desperately needs to change. Class formation, divisions of labour, electoral coalitions, and national identity are deeply tied to processes of race-making and British white supremacy.

There has been antisemitism and racism across every part of British politics over the course of Labour’s so-called crisis. Britain is a deeply racist and antisemitic country. From the very start, however, the issue was framed almost exclusively in the context of Jeremy Corbyn winning the leadership of the Labour Party. Corbyn’s shock victory for the left of the Party represented an embarrassment and a threat to most of the Party’s MPs, other political parties, and a uniformly and cartoonishly hostile press. A barely concealed civil war raged over the last five years with constant revolts against Corbyn’s leadership and a ceaseless media barrage against him and his supporters. With discussion about antisemitism and racism framed through the prism of Corbyn’s Labour, it could never escape its reduction to a proxy debate, a proxy war. Lines were drawn early, with most involved seeking to confirm or justify what they had already decided. Labour’s so-called “antisemitism scandal” became a battleground for ongoing cycles of rupture, played out across old and new media. It interacted with Twitter’s “take” economy — most evidence in the EHRC report was gleaned from social media — but also showcased the enduring power of legacy media to dominate the agenda and set the terms of debate.

Boxing in the issue of antisemitism within one political party’s power struggle has done immense damage to the cause of anti-racism. It has continually reduced important and complex issues surrounding antisemitism (including left antisemitism), Palestine solidarity and liberation, racism and anti-racism, to matters of internal party management. Internal power struggles, in one of Britain’s two political parties of state, in the exemplar imperial power of modern history, could never be the appropriate context in which to fight racism or gain clarity on how it functions. The unserious, hysterical, and instrumental ways this farce has been conducted is itself dangerous to Jews. After years of turmoil, and interminable “debate,” the very mention of antisemitism increasingly invites scorn from casual observers who are now tired of hearing about it.

Antisemitism rooted in conspiracy thinking and confusion

Antisemitism is an incredibly adaptable, at times ambiguous, form of racism. Often mobilized today through symbolism, tropes, winks, and nudges, people can often unintentionally reproduce its discourses.  Some Jewish people have been targeted for collective responsibility over these five years — a clear form of racism. Many Jews have been associated with or made responsible for the state of Israel by people of varying political stripes. For many Jews, there has been genuine hurt and worry about antisemitism. And there have been enough instances of real antisemitism, if one’s attention is called to all of them, to warrant such worry.

Much of the antisemitism on the left today and in parts of Corbynism comes from networks utterly suffused with conspiratorial, underdeveloped, foreshortened, or overdetermined ideas about power, capital, and world affairs. Such discourses can easily slip in and out of antisemitism, or simply prepare world views for it, and are part of a much wider phenomenon of online cultures of conspiracy theorizing that are not exclusively “left wing.” Rather, they converge a wide range of political communities and speak to the depths of confusion, decomposition, and ambiguity of many political cultures and movements. Some of these elements are just as easily found in anti-lockdown movements and transphobic networks as they are in Occupy or Gilet Jaunes. Some on the left have underestimated the scale and purchase of conspiracy theories to build communities that converge across such far-flung constituencies. Although such conspiracy theorizing ultimately represents a demobilizing, disempowering, counter-revolutionary politics, its forms and structures and the simplistic world-building visions it mobilizes are highly attractive.

The hyper-partisan lines drawn and the national scrutiny of “Labour antisemitism” probably deepened conspiracy-thinking and also created the conditions in which individuals and networks would inevitably get “caught” — either by doing nothing wrong or by saying something clumsy or even clearly antisemitic. These comments, some of which were genuinely grotesque, came to represent “Corbynism” in a way that no other political party or movement is held responsible for the racism of its members. Splits formed within Corbynism over this. Some were more willing to acknowledge the antisemitism that did exist, while refusing to allow centrists and reactionaries to paint themselves as anti-racist heroes. Others could view all accusations only as yet another “smear” or attack line to discredit Corbyn and Corbynism.

There was and is antisemitism in the Labour Party. And the way in which it was cynically taken advantage of was also motivated by factionalism. Both of these statements can be true. But a moralistic approach to the issue of racism — and moralizing around Corbyn as an individual and Labour’s “anti-racist” traditions — proved a barrier to the development of actual anti-racist politics.

The campaigns against Corbynism

The campaigns arrayed to fight Corbynism were varied. Some were Jews genuinely alarmed at the antisemitism they had read about or experienced. But many others cared little about antisemitism and instrumentalized the “crisis” to attack the left. There was a mawkish, ahistorical sententiousness to many liberal “anti-Corbyn” campaigns. This moment elevated thoroughly mediocre and bigoted figures who suddenly fancied themselves as civil rights heroes. Conforming to the British “race relations” view of racism as individualized “intolerance,” a widespread notion was established that antisemitism comes from political extremes, both left and right. This notion meshed well with the assumption that the natural home for British Jews is the political center/right — a convenient formulation for liberal philosemites that asks no questions whatsoever of their world view. There was a kind of anti-racism cosplay, a hapless mimicry of “activism,” much like the liberal #Resistance to Trump. These were people utterly distant from grassroots struggles, lacking basic knowledge about British racism — including antisemitism.

Emblematic of this movement was the 2018 “Enough is Enough” demonstration in Westminster, featuring a rogues gallery of bigoted Labour and Tory politicians in attendance. The evident bankruptcy of the anti-racism espoused by huge swathes of the people who have come to dominate discussions of antisemitism has hindered prospects for solidarities. Many Jews, and some others, have shown themselves willing to align with deeply racist and reactionary allies.

Conflicts long present among Jews have been dragged into national debate. The focus on “Labour antisemitism” became a public battleground for these ongoing, internal ruptures. One such rupture came to the fore in discussions over whether Labour should adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism. Such a definition forbids describing the state of Israel as a “racist endeavour.” Organizations signing on to this definition would be obliged to police how Palestinians describe the state oppressing them. It also has an impact on how Jews themselves can criticize Israel as momentum grows behind redefining anti-Zionism as antisemitism.

For some Jews, the national debate has meant bitter conflicts that have ended friendships and estranged family members. But much of the discourse, including much put out by Jewish organizations and publications, has simply been wrong. The language of “existential threat” and baseless fear-mongering that Jews would leave the country if Corbyn’s Labour won an election had its desired effect of amplifying tensions. Jews and non-Jews regularly compare Corbyn and his supporters to Nazis. To invoke the stock iconography of Nazi Germany in reference to a prospective Corbyn government is absurd on its own terms. But when the far right is ascendant across the Global North, it is shameful self-indulgence.

Antisemitism can be subtle, imperceptible to many. But merely being Jewish does not make one inherently skilled at deciphering it. This episode has further underlined the limitations of a “lived experience” approach to racism. While it is important for oppressed people to subjectively define their oppression and oppressor, it cannot be everything. Racialized groups are not and have never been homogenous. As Isaac Deutscher once wrote, “to speak of the ‘Jewish community’ as if it were an all-embracing entity…is meaningless.” There are repeated mentions in the EHRC report of “the Jewish Community” (and that favourite Blairite term, “stakeholders”). The report uses these terms as marks of authenticity. They are evoked as prospective seals of approval for future fixed processes, restored confidence, and acceptable training schemes. Signing up to the Board of Deputies’ “Ten Pledges” was seen as progress for Corbyn’s successors.

The “Jewish community” is stratified

Yet the Jewish “community” has always been stratified by class, by theology, by migratory histories, by positions on Zionism.. Those deemed “community leaders” are products of specific historical relationships to power, based on the kind of power-brokering and social control logics in which the colonial British state has centuries of expertise. These structures in British Jewry are much older and more settled than in other racialized groups in Britain. And Jewish “community leaders” have consistently shown their nationalist and class allegiances. Jewish MPs, communal organizations, philanthropists, and newspapers have historically supported immigration control legislation against Eastern European Jewish migrants. Many also tried to debate Mosley’s fascists in the 1930s, condemning the Jewish working class who instead took matters into their own hands both before and after the war.

Some prominent Jews have repeatedly stated that antisemitism today is uniquely ignored or tolerated among the wider panoply of racisms. This claim obscures how open and ubiquitous other forms of racism are and how very ignorant or uncaring many are of that. Despite claims about Jewish flight, the groups who would have been most vulnerable to a Corbyn government — that is, vulnerable to the continuities of racial state violence, regardless of which party is in government — would have been the migrants and people of color who disproportionately face the violence of police, prisons, and borders.

The power of the antisemitism label in “Labour antisemitism” does not derive from the power of “Jews” but from the alignment of the accusations — some genuine, some not — with a wider set of interests. This alignment can’t be reduced to media leaning “Tory,” even if that plays some part. It’s patently clear that media framing was long set on this issue, partly due to the tacit racism of the British press and partly due to the industry’s reliance on sedimented “narratives.” But it’s also because there was enough left antisemitism, tolerated by enough people, with enough denials doubled down on and complaints handled badly, to keep the whole circus traveling.

As we’ve seen, charges of antisemitism (and charges against people on the left) come with different consequences in today’s Britain compared to widespread Islamophobia, anti-Blackness, and the persecution of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. The danger here is that the issue becomes — and in some cases it already has — about different racialized groups being made to resent each other over what appears to be uneven anti-racist priorities, what gets censured, and what or who is ignored. There can be an easy slippage from such unevenness to “Jews are richer, Jews have more political or media power” explanations.

“Jews,” as a collectivity, and as a tiny minority, do not hold the power to create and sustain the mainstream “scandal” of the past five years, nor to destroy the prospect of socialism. We need to understand what is happening right now. The reason why some forms of racism appear more important than others is not about the power and privilege of Jews, nor even necessarily about the whiteness of most Jews in Britain (though this certainly contributes). It is about how British white supremacy and British capitalism are organized.

“Jewishness” tells us more about society than about Jews

This episode has showcased particular ways in which British society, and particular non-Jews therein, conceives of and talks about Jewishness. The role of “Jewishness” here has much more to do with contemporary Western politics than it does with Jews themselves. In the years after World War II, the Allied victors set the criteria for what constituted racism. They did so in a way that exceptionalized 1930s Europe, and especially Germany, by making it the master-frame of racism and defining this racism in the moral terms of pure evil. This frame bypassed Europe and the United States’ long, ongoing histories of colonialism and severed any connection between their racial imperialism and the rise of fascism. After the Eichmann Trial, consensus gradually demanded organized national reverence for the horrors of Holocaust. At the base of such a consensus was the assertion that the Holocaust was utterly unique and any comparisons to other histories of racial violence are inappropriate and unacceptable. A pathological “Jew Hate” became the substance to police, severing fascism’s race science and concentration camps from their long histories in European colonialism.

This post-war narrative helped establish a modern nationalist myth that Britain “saved the Jews” — after having deported and prevented the entry of thousands of them for the half century leading up to extermination. This frozen conception of racism as a pathological German Nazism has made it the image against which all other racisms are measured, leading to both hyperbolic comparisons to Nazi Germany as well as dismissals of horrific racial violence that fails to meet the bar of Nazism. The effect on perceptions of racism and antisemitism in the “Labour antisemitism” debates was that accusers often failed to escape wholly inappropriate Nazi imagery, on the one hand, while some Corbynites failed to recognize antisemitism in any guise other than a stock Nazism, on the other.

A top-down anti-racism focused around antisemitism has become a matter of state in ways that a focus on, say, Islamophobia, has not. This philosemitism of the state homogenizes and instrumentalizes Jews, empowering mostly white non-Jews with limitless confidence to speak on behalf of Jews, to ventriloquize Jewishness. This philosemitism demands Jews conform to the philosemites’ image of us. And if we fail to, they feel emboldened to ignore us or even challenge our Jewishness. As Alana Lentin argues, “the false love for Jews relies on the separation of ‘good’ from ‘bad’ Jews.” “Good Jews” become the repository and proxy for desires to return to Blair or show fealty to Israeli ultra-nationalism. All the while, the figure of the “Bad Jew” — cosmopolitan schemer, anti-nationalist financier, the motor of revolutionary and migratory movements — continues to animate Western political discourses, sometimes with violent consequences.

The appropriating embrace of “Jews” by liberal, conservative, and far right states and movements makes for a narrow and reactionary definition of Jewishness. “Jews” become a model minority, the poster children of an ongoing colonial project. In the process, Zionism becomes both common sense and inevitable and, at the same time, Jews are made avatars and human shields for Europe’s ongoing white supremacy.

The idea of a “New Antisemitism” positions a conflated Israel and Jewry as civilisational allies of the West, guarding the gates from the “Arab hordes.” Liberal, conservative, hard right, and even parts of the Western far right now try to distinguish themselves as friends of “The Jews.” In this zero-sum equation, Jewish diversity is flattened — particularly the long, proud history of Jewish involvement in resistance, liberation, and revolutionary politics.

A discussion of antisemitism and, specifically, “Labour antisemitism” always needed to occur. But largely absent from the debates staged by Britain’s rancid political and media culture is a serious confrontation with how Britain does race. Britain is built on and sustained by colonial spoils and structured by white supremacy. Its long history of antisemitism is entwined with its broader racist structures. Britain’s originary architecture for internal and external bordering was built over a century ago to deport and deprive Jews. Anti-migrant racism, such a staple of British society, was perfected in this period. Jews, or “Aliens,” were stealing “our” jobs and lowering wages; they were a drain on the nation; they wouldn’t integrate; there were “no-go” areas of London where no-one spoke English. Such discourses would be applied to Black and Asian migrants, too. The introduction of immigration controls was urged on by a Labourism increasingly integrated into the national polity. Britain’s borders were enforced in concert, not contradiction, with the development of early welfare reform and later the welfare state — the pride of Labourism.

Throughout the period of Thatcher, New Labour, and post-2010 Tory rule, the British state tightened its grip on the function of the border and ratcheted up the punitive assemblage of surveillance, workfare, and imprisonment that stratified and disciplined the working class. The rise of this security state, particularly after 9/11, has meant the violent targeting of various morphing racialized figures from “Black criminals” to “bogus asylum seekers” to “Muslim terrorists” to “illegal immigrants.” It has to be stated that, at the level of state governance, Islamophobia and anti-Blackness receive incomparably more backing in policy and state violence than antisemitism. Prisons, policing, and immigration detention remain profoundly color-coded in ways that largely bypass Jews as such (that is, Black Jews and other Jews of color remain victims of these policies and violences, but not on the basis of a racialized Jewishness). Windrush, PREVENT, anti-terror legislation, citizenship deprivation laws — the lives of people of colour in Britain are directly shaped and made harder by the state.

Violent antisemitism is on the rise

Still, antisemitism is also on the rise, typically finding its most violent expression in attacks on synagogues, Jewish cemeteries, and physical attacks on Jewish people, mostly religiously observant Jews. It is also clear that antisemitic conspiracy theories, long prevalent online, have increasingly seeped into mainstream politics and media. During the first COVID-19 lockdown, polling done by a University of Oxford study found that 20% of English people thought COVID-19 was a Jewish conspiracy. The same number thought Muslim people were behind it. The worst effects of “Labour antisemitism” have been the alienation, fear, and deeply hurt feelings of many Jewish people. I have no desire to minimize this. I feel the same way when I encounter antisemitism. It grinds me down and makes my heart sink. Nor do I wish to deny the potential for antisemitism to worsen. The worst antisemitic violence in Britain historically has been from the state and the far right, but there are examples of left violence against Jews in the lead-up to World War I.

Antisemitism is not some discrete “scandal” issue, nor can it be confined to any “community” or political tradition. It is a constitutive form of racism that structures modernity and has shaped our world. It acts as a latent or direct theoretical underpinning for how many people, with varying politics, misunderstand global capitalism and world events. The history of Jews and the evolution of antisemitism in Europe are bound up with the story of European social development — constant migration, the birth of modern nationalism, liberal “emancipation,” revolutionary socialist, anarchist, and labour struggles, eliminationist genocide, and modern settler-colonialism. We must take it seriously.

Hoping to do so through the utterly debased, compromised, and ignorant public institutions and discourses that are dominant, and built on centuries of racist continuities, is not an option. Alana Lentin has written that the “official, top-down anti-racism” — so crystallised by political and media approaches to “Labour antisemitism” — “sets antisemitism up as the threat to end all threats. This does not…result in an end to antisemitism. Rather, antisemitism is left intact while all other racisms within the racial state are denied.”

This rotten saga should have hammered home how inadequate a vehicle the Labour Party is for anti-racism. Resources and energies are needed to support and build on existing anti-racist movements across borders, ones led by and centering those most in the firing line. Our experiences cannot be levelled or universalized — movements, struggles, and relationships have to become integrated. We must grow our capacities while holding onto both our particularities and that which entwines our relationships through colonialism and white supremacy. We need to build power and solidarity through struggle, not through election cycles.

As Jews, we need to see the fight against antisemitism and for our own liberation in the struggles against anti-Black racism, Islamophobia, and settler-colonialism. This is the only way to end the white supremacy of a “top-down anti-racism” that uses Jews as human shields to thwart other liberation struggles.

“Diversity” to repress Black struggles

The backdrop to “diversity” and “training” solutions to racism has been the defeats and repression of Black struggles and other anti-racist movements and uprisings. Those movements brought  challenges to systemic white supremacy, set in the context of global anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, and collective struggles and rooted in people’s workplaces, communities, and everyday lives. The kinds of struggles that Black Lives Matter and other movements are mobilizing today.

The hollow corporate culture that fetishizes “diversity” represents the appropriation and replacement of Black movements with the lie of individual self-improvement and liberal equality. Campaigns against “Labour antisemitism” showed few hallmarks of anti-racism or the solidarity that is its bedrock. Rather, they nakedly positioned Jewishness as a frozen object, and used it to represent a vapid “against left and right” politics. Such “anti-racism” fails to challenge Britain’s racial culture of violence, resentment, and melancholy — the barely coded attacks on a “failed multiculturalism,” “wokeness,” and “identity politics.” The nation’s insatiable appetite for border violence outstrips any cares about child hunger. The age of top-down “anti-racism” and “diversity” is the age of Brexit, police killings, prison expansion, and refugees dying in the Channel.

The Labour Party’s general response to the EHRC’s report has been to accept the recommendations laid out. But what is the legitimacy of an organization like the EHRC? What legitimacy does the British state and its political parties have to arbitrate racism?

The EHRC fails its own “representation” and “diversity” approach to anti-racism. Barely any people of color act as its commissioners. The Tory government’s appointment of new commissioners even sees the addition of a high-profile racist to their ranks.

Anti-racist solidarity and trust must be rebuilt and deepened. Fixes and thinking around the subject have  to move away from “independent” reviews and management procedures, quote-tweet dunks, and opinion polls. A weakness in recent years has been a widely held expectation that the Labour Party could ever be a meaningful vehicle to fight racism. In movements and organizations that are ours, we can make mistakes, do the political education, and grow together. We can hold each other accountable. It is struggle, and only struggle, that has shown the capacity to force change from the white supremacist state. Social movements, class struggle, and insurrection are where hope lies — and solidarity is all we have. No more electioneering within the existing parameters of a thoroughly racist national context, while institutional pressures heap demoralization upon capitulation. It is united struggles from outside of political parties and democratic institutions that have proven to be the catalysts for the best of radical politics in Britain. History shows us that it is self-active, autonomous, bottom-up anti-racist struggles that secure greater freedoms for all.

 

  1. The new leadership of the Party appears to have already contradicted the EHRC’s call for an end to “political interference” by involving themselves in the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn (first from the Party, then from the Party whip after a disciplinary panel reinstated Corbyn).
  2. The report qualified that Article 10 of the ECHR protects “Labour Party members who, for example, make legitimate criticisms of the Israeli government, or express their opinions on internal Party matters, such as the scale of antisemitism within the Party, based on their own experience and within the law. It does not protect criticism of Israel that is antisemitic.”
  3. leaked internal report also suggests that Labour HQ staff hostile to Corbynism (and to Labour’s electoral success in the 2017 election) had purposefully dragged their feet in dealing with antisemitism disciplinary cases prior to 2018.

Michael Richmond is co-writing a book on the history of class composition in Britain and the US over the last two centuries that centres race, gender and borders in processes of class formation and exclusion. He tweets from @Sisyphusa

Comments (2)

  • dave says:

    This is a long and rather rambling piece that contains much good stuff but falls down in my view on a fundamental point by arguing contradictory standpoints – that antisemitism has been weaponised against the left but the left has much antisemitism.

    Richmond writes: ‘A discussion of antisemitism and, specifically, “Labour antisemitism” always needed to occur.’ Really? He also says: ‘Britain is a deeply racist and antisemitic country.’ Really? Racism to a large extent but less so today, and not antisemitism, surely.

    Yes, historically Labour and the labour movement have harboured much prejudice, but it has lessened year by year and we are in better shape on the left than ever, having led on anti-racism constantly for many years.

    Richmond’s main point about uniting all groups in class struggle and antiracism is of course sound but the article loses its way in several places.

  • I found this confusing I am probably easily confused but I find that I must basically disagree with one of his themes. I utterly refute the concept that Labour has any more culpability for antisemitism than the whole British public.
    Any suggestion to the contrary is unacceptable! Labour has the same level of AS as has the rest of Britain, no more, and probably less.
    To suggest otherwise just panders to the “witch hunters” and I agree with Dave that he seems to contradict himself by on one hand berating “A.S. weaponisation and at the same time seeming to blame Labour members for this situation.
    I hope that I do not leave anyone confused!
    Whether JVL posts this remains to be seen? I don`t get stressed either way.

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