Jeremy Corbyn, Hobson’s Imperialism, and antisemitism

Jeremy Corbyn. Photo: Wikipedia Commons

JVL Introduction

‘”I only wish people who disagree with Corbyn dealt with his policies and cease this ridiculous hunt for possible antisemitism in everything he does,”writes Donald Sassoon.

Donald Sassoon, Letters, The Guardian
2 May 2019

The campaign about antisemitism in Corbyn’s Labour party is getting absurd (Corbyn urged to explain his praise for antisemitic book, 2 May). Hobson’s Imperialism: A Study has been taught for years in universities up and down the country (I taught it myself). No one has ever felt the need to highlight the 10 lines or so, in a book of 400 pages, which are antisemitic, but Corbyn was expected to do so.

Anyone who had not heard of this text would be forgiven for thinking this is antisemitic text. It is not. It was an extremely influential study of imperialism (it even influenced Lenin) and has always been read as such. I do not remember any article in scholarly journals making a point about that paragraph on the Rothschilds and the “race” which, Hobson claims, was so influential. The paragraph is completely marginal to the text. Far less marginal are Hobson’s comments about the “lower races” (ie black Africans) and what to do with them – also very common at the time (Part 2, Chapter 4). So why expect Corbyn (did he really read the entire book, it’s heavy going, believe me) to even mention that passage?

Should everyone who discusses Virginia Woolf point out that in a letter she notes how perturbed she was at sitting next to Sir Philip Sassoon, described as an “underbred Whitechapel Jew” and reflecting “How I hated marrying a Jew – how I hated their nasal voices and their oriental jewellery, and their noses…” (The Letters of Virginia Woolf, Vol. IV 1929-1931, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York 1979, pp.47, 195). Beware Woolf scholars who fail to mention that: the anti-antisemitic police may be after you. And how about Sidney Webb, one of the founders of the Fabian Society, when secretary of state for the colonies in the 1929 Labour government, explaining that he was pleased that there were “no Jews in the British Labour party” and that while “French, German, Russian Socialism is Jew-ridden. We, thank heaven, are free”, adding that was probably the case because there was “no money in it”.(Paul Kelemen, The British Left and Zionism: The History of a Divorce, Manchester University Press 2012, p.20). And even Theodor Herzl, the “father” of Zionism, when describing an elegant soiree at the Berlin home of a wealthy businessman in 1885, lamented the presence of “Some thirty or forty ugly little Jews and Jewesses. No consoling sight”. (Amos Elon, Herzl, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London 1975, p.69)

I could go on but won’t. I only wish people who disagree with Corbyn dealt with his policies and cease this ridiculous hunt for possible antisemitism in everything he does.

Donald Sassoon
Emeritus professor of comparative European history, Queen Mary University of London

Comments (3)

  • Liberty says:

    What has happened to Jeremy Corbyn is a warning to everyone, we have witnessed the daily lies, deceitful reporting and smears. It is a truly horrific conspiracy to bring about the downfall of a great principled man of the people. I will never believe ANYTHING in the mainstream media again and am totally disgusted at all those who have hurt the Labour Party being elected and have caused so much damage. The poorest and most vulnerable in Britain will never forgive them.

  • Tony Booth says:

    What should we make of all those who celebrated the Balfour declaraion, but did not refer to the racism and antisemitism of the man and the calculating and racist motives behind the declaration itself? Here are a couple of informative extracts:

    Theresa May “As we work together towards Balfour’s vision of a peaceful co-existence, we must be equally clear that there can never be any excuses for boycotts, divestment or sanctions: they are unacceptable and this government will have no truck with those who subscribe to them.”

    [Balfour] wrote in 1919 in his Introduction to Nahum Sokolow’s History of Zionism, the Zionist movement would “mitigate the age-long miseries created for Western civilization by the presence in its midst of a Body which it too long regarded as alien and even hostile, but which it was equally unable to expel or to absorb.”

  • Valerie Matthews says:

    It is obvious to me that there are certain individuals whose ONLY objective is to ‘get rid’ Of Mr Corbyn , these individuals from day one have raised one issue after another to try and unseat a ‘Democratically Elected Leader’ They are trawling through obscure Documents to find anything to discredit him. The latest of which is ‘Antisemitism’ Many Jewish Individuals have defended him.he has stood against Jewish persecution all his life. I feel these dissenters whatever their motivation are doing a grave disservice to our Jewish friends, people like Norman Finklestein has stated just such an opinion. Meantime, in our Country people of all backgrounds are suffering greatly from poverty, lack of services, the run down of the health service, schools, Police, Fire Services lacking support. I do wonder why the dissenters actually care about their Constituents of all faiths and Races they were elected to represent, and why we never hear any views on the situation many of their voters find themselves in, or what they propose to better these individuals situations.

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