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The Labour Right's pyrrhic victory
by Richard Seymour / Sept. 5, 2018

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on the NEC's decision to adopt the IHRA and the concocted antisemitism crisis more generally

Seymour, R. (2018, September 05). The Labour Right's pyrrhic victory. Patreon. https://www.patreon.com/posts/labour-rights-21227699

Nor has it softened opinion on Israel-Palestine. Quite the opposite. I suspect many activists who had never considered what they thought of the foundation of Israel have, in recent weeks, been getting a crash course.

Palestinian rights have been a growing concern in the British Left since 1982, and Sabra and Shatila. But historical awareness of the issue of Zionism and its complexities was something that was kept to the fringes. The broader pro-Palestine movement focused on concrete and immediate wrongs, human rights injustices, campaigning for peace. Now an otherwise recondite and difficult history is being driven up the agenda. And an historically informed, internationalist, anti-racist opposition to Zionism is being legitimised not despite but by means of the media furore against it. You could call it consciousness-raising-from-above.

And by whom? Who chose that terrain? And what an odd moment to force that conversation, when Israel has just, by the verdict of many of its supporters, defined itself as a racist state. How do you think it would look if a Palestinian speaker was to point that out at Labour conference this year?

by Richard Seymour 2 months ago

Nor has it softened opinion on Israel-Palestine. Quite the opposite. I suspect many activists who had never considered what they thought of the foundation of Israel have, in recent weeks, been getting a crash course.

Palestinian rights have been a growing concern in the British Left since 1982, and Sabra and Shatila. But historical awareness of the issue of Zionism and its complexities was something that was kept to the fringes. The broader pro-Palestine movement focused on concrete and immediate wrongs, human rights injustices, campaigning for peace. Now an otherwise recondite and difficult history is being driven up the agenda. And an historically informed, internationalist, anti-racist opposition to Zionism is being legitimised not despite but by means of the media furore against it. You could call it consciousness-raising-from-above.

And by whom? Who chose that terrain? And what an odd moment to force that conversation, when Israel has just, by the verdict of many of its supporters, defined itself as a racist state. How do you think it would look if a Palestinian speaker was to point that out at Labour conference this year?

by Richard Seymour 2 months ago

Their hijacking of antisemitism, though very successful in setting the media's agenda, hasn't cut through to the wider public. That's because allegations that Labour is institutionally antisemitic, or that Corbyn himself is a racist, cut against, rather than with, the grain of what people already suspect to be true. Those who dislike Corbyn overwhelmingly think he's a politically correct peacenik, not a Jew-hater.

So why stick with it? For some people, no doubt, Corbyn's criticisms of Zionism make him an antisemite. That isn't, I suspect, what is driving the Labour Right. I think they like it because it confuses and demoralises the Left. It may not cut through to the public, but it cuts through to the Left's anti-racist conscience. Because we're not cynical about racism, in the way that someone who suggests putting white people at the head of the housing queue is, we're easier to troll on the subject. It also acts on submerged strategic disagreements on the Left. It's easy to be a happy family when things are going well. But hard choices and difficult, nuanced arguments flush out division. It reveals where the ideologically harder and softer parts of the opposition are, and it gets them arguing among themselves.

For the Labour Right, it also supplies the missing sense of moral purpose. Their polemics have tended to look flaccid, stale, or moon-bound over the last few years. Communism has no place in the Labour Party? Hardly electrifying. On this issue, however, they can achieve moments of superficially impressive indignation. Tony Blair once commented on the difference between himself and the activist Left. The latter being the protesters, the ones who say, "let's get that bastard out of power". As he went on to muse, "I'm the bastard". Well, just for a moment, the hard, cynical political operators who spent their whole lives training to be the bastard, can say, "let's get that bastard out of power". Frank Field, Gordon Brown, Margaret Hodge, the Kinnocks. They know where the bodies are buried, but for the moment they can adopt the style of the campus SJW activist. It's quite animating (take it from an ex-Trotskyist), but totally unsustainable for that tendency.

by Richard Seymour 2 months ago

Their hijacking of antisemitism, though very successful in setting the media's agenda, hasn't cut through to the wider public. That's because allegations that Labour is institutionally antisemitic, or that Corbyn himself is a racist, cut against, rather than with, the grain of what people already suspect to be true. Those who dislike Corbyn overwhelmingly think he's a politically correct peacenik, not a Jew-hater.

So why stick with it? For some people, no doubt, Corbyn's criticisms of Zionism make him an antisemite. That isn't, I suspect, what is driving the Labour Right. I think they like it because it confuses and demoralises the Left. It may not cut through to the public, but it cuts through to the Left's anti-racist conscience. Because we're not cynical about racism, in the way that someone who suggests putting white people at the head of the housing queue is, we're easier to troll on the subject. It also acts on submerged strategic disagreements on the Left. It's easy to be a happy family when things are going well. But hard choices and difficult, nuanced arguments flush out division. It reveals where the ideologically harder and softer parts of the opposition are, and it gets them arguing among themselves.

For the Labour Right, it also supplies the missing sense of moral purpose. Their polemics have tended to look flaccid, stale, or moon-bound over the last few years. Communism has no place in the Labour Party? Hardly electrifying. On this issue, however, they can achieve moments of superficially impressive indignation. Tony Blair once commented on the difference between himself and the activist Left. The latter being the protesters, the ones who say, "let's get that bastard out of power". As he went on to muse, "I'm the bastard". Well, just for a moment, the hard, cynical political operators who spent their whole lives training to be the bastard, can say, "let's get that bastard out of power". Frank Field, Gordon Brown, Margaret Hodge, the Kinnocks. They know where the bodies are buried, but for the moment they can adopt the style of the campus SJW activist. It's quite animating (take it from an ex-Trotskyist), but totally unsustainable for that tendency.

by Richard Seymour 2 months ago