Another Zinoviev?

A sleepless night last night, agitated – no, more than that, infuriated – by the plotting against Jeremy Corbyn. I have to admit, embarrassedly, that I’m a full-blown ‘Corbynista’, desperate for him to win the next general election, in order to lead us back to the moderate social democracy of my younger days. Yes, I could wish he had more ‘charisma’, to boost his chances among those who are foolishly impressed by such things; but to set against that I’m hoping that his obvious honesty, probity, politeness, decency, humanity, humility, having been right about almost everything in the past, and of course his present-day policies, might compensate and push him forward, as they did with his equally uncharismatic predecessor in 1945. In recent months ‘charisma’ has given us Brexit (Boris) and Trump. Best, I think, to put it back in its box.

The Tories and their cheerleaders in the Press are clearly nervous that JC’s qualities  will break through, which is what lies behind their savage and unprincipled monstering of him over the last couple of years. It used to be about the way he dressed; then about his supposed lack of respect (illustrated with photoshopped pictures) on patriotic occasions; then about his relations with Irish and other nationalists; then about his ambivalent stand on Brexit – which I’m unhappy about too, but we’ll see how it goes; and most recently based on his supposed sympathy with the ‘Black September’ terrorists who carried out the monstrous  attack on Israeli athletes at the 1982 Olympics, by laying a wreath on their graves in Tunisia. Except  that they aren’t buried in Tunisia, but in Libya; and Corbyn’s wreath – in the course of a peace mission – was for the forty innocent Palestinian victims of an Israeli air strike there in 1985. No matter; the Daily Mail  refused to change its tune (never mind the accuracy, feel the smear); and a few days ago Benjamin Netanyahu piled in with this: ‘The laying of a wreath by Jeremy Corbyn on the graves of the terrorist who perpetrated the Munich massacre and his comparison of Israel to the Nazis deserves unequivocal condemnation from everyone’- which must count as a foreign intervention in British politics as serious as Russia’s supposed intervention in the USA’s. (The charge against him of comparing the Israelis to the Nazis, incidentally, is also false.) All this arises from Corbyn’s support for the cause of Palestinian nationhood – alongside that of Israel – which of course is why apologists for the present Israeli government want rid of him. The right-wing British press are only taking up any weapon they find to hand. (It only seems yesterday that they were the anti-semites.)

The slanders are grotesque, and easily disproved. The trouble is that mud sticks, as you can see on scores of websites, especially Israeli ones, and as the Tories and the ‘Israel Lobby’ are undoubtedly aware. What should Corbyn do? I’m not happy with his offering ‘apologies’, which in themselves might be taken to imply that the charges against him have some basis in fact. I’m hoping that the falseness of the right-wing propaganda may soon become so obvious that it turns into the story itself, which could only benefit Labour.

But in any case it’s clear that, come the next election, Labour will have a fight on its hands. More ‘revelations’ will appear, probably so shortly before the election as to leave no time for them to be discredited in the same way as the ‘wreath’ one. The Tories have done this before. Look at the ‘Zinoviev letter’ affair: They could do it again. They are amoral – and possibly desperate – enough.

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Fake Imperial History

I consider myself to be as ‘anti-imperial’ as the next person. I remember the British Empire while it was still a going concern. I always opposed it. I occasionally demonstrated against aspects of it. I wrote my PhD thesis on the early anti-imperialists: later published as Critics of Empire (1968), and recently re-issued by IB Tauris. Later I published several more books and papers about the history of the Empire, hoping to enlighten people about what was in reality a very complex and ambivalent phenomenon. Other ‘imperial historians’ (not ‘imperialist historians’, note, though we were often assumed to be that, simply because we studied the thing: ‘social historians’ are usually socialists, after all), joined in. None, to my knowledge, apart from Niall Ferguson and one or two Right-wing amateurs, was pro-the Empire.

I like to think that much of what we wrote got through to people. My The Lion’s Share, for example, has sold in tens of thousands, and is coming up for a sixth edition next year. But it obviously hasn’t percolated widely enough; which is why I published Imperial Britain: What the Empire Wasn’t a couple of years ago. (The clue is in the title.) People still come up with rubbish, on both sides of the ‘was the Empire a good or a bad thing’ argument.

An example is an email I recently received from ‘The Radical Tea-Towel Company’ – highly recommended; it sells some lovely socialist ephemera – and which is clearly not based on any serious reading, of mine or anyone else’s writing and research. (You can get it on the ‘Radicalteatowel’ website; it’s headed ‘Divide and Rule in the Empire’, and introduces a ‘Gandhi’ tea-towel.) It’s not this piece’s hostility to the old Empire I object to – I largely share that – but the ignorant simplicity of the case it tries to make: mainly the deliberate ‘Divide and Rule’ charge, with regard to India, and then to Ireland and Palestine. If you want to effectively challenge or oppose modern neo- or post-imperialism, as with any institution or ideology, you must properly understand it first. What is written in this Radical Tea-Towel email is easily dismissed, and so likely to be ineffective.

It bears comparison, I think, with what the ‘Alt-Right’ is putting out these days: material which feeds prejudices rather than analysing them. As in that case, there are bound to be germs of truth in what is reported – there are some in this piece – but mixed in with sheer uncritical nonsense. I’d urge the author, if he sees this, to read my Imperial Britain before he writes anything else on this subject. That will save my elaborating on his misconceptions here. Unfortunately, ‘fake news’ and ‘fake history’ are not just the prerogatives of the Right.

But isn’t this the fate of all serious scholars?

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The Great Swedish-British Divergence

Up to and including the 1960s Britain and Sweden were travelling roughly along the same politico-economic path, characterised by the mixed economy and the welfare state. Then they began to diverge. Britain experienced (suffered?) what I call in one of my books her ‘Great Reaction’, while Sweden (and the rest of Scandinavia) by and large kept to the Social-Democratic road. Living in Sweden for the past 23 years, on and off, I’ve been mulling over why this divergence took place, and – with Kajsa, mulling from the other direction – developing some ideas.

She and I are now contemplating writing a book about this together, which will also serve as an introduction to modern Swedish history for Anglos. We’re both fairly familiar by now with each other’s countries, and professionally engaged on the histories of our own. It seems to be a project ideally suited to us, and could just work.

Any ideas from others will gratefully received, and acknowledged if the baby ever gets born. I may post progress on this blog.

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More on Labour & Jews (Re-Post)

Another good piece on the ‘Labour anti-semitism’ thing:

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Boris as Historian

I’ve blogged about Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson before: It really beggars belief to think that he could be regarded as a suitable candidate for Leader of the Conservative Party, let alone a future – perhaps the next – Prime Minister. He was the worst Foreign Secretary we have ever had, managing to insult almost every foreigner who came into his view, except Donald Trump, and to increase the prison sentence on a poor woman he was supposed to be interceding on behalf of. He’s shallow, and exceedingly foolish. His recent comparison of Moslem women in burkhas with pillar boxes has given offence: though I have to say I thought this was one of his better jokes, and religions ought to be able to put up with insults. – Yet the Tories still love him, and calculate that his teddy-bear looks, fun antics and odd juvenile upper-class-Etonian language will endear him to the plebs. If so, that doesn’t seem to say much for the plebs. (Too much ‘reality’ TV?)

I don’t reckon any historian could be on his side. This old review of his biography of Churchill – by the most respected current historian of the Second World War years – shows why: Of course Johnson is not up for Evans’s job as the next Regius Professor of History at Cambridge. The qualities required for both positions are different. But ‘making up’ things is not a qualification for high political office either. Or didn’t use to be….

I’m still sweltering under a Scandinavian sun. (Hence no proper blogs – only reposts.) Is this the tipping point of global warming? If so I imagine Boris will deny it, if he thinks that can get him into his fellow-liar Donald’s good books.

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The Plot Revealed?

Here’s the case for the Corbyn anti-semitism farrago’s all being an Israeli plot. Make of it what you will.

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Fake History, Swedish Style

Sweden has a general election next month. Anything could happen – any sort of coalition, that is. Present polling shows the middle-ground parties being squeezed by the ‘extremes’: the Vänster (roughly Corbynistas) on the Left, and the Sweden Democrats (Ukippy) on the Right. Just like nearly everywhere: it’s a world trend. (Obviously arising from the crisis of global capitalism.)

The Sweden Democrats are limbering up for the fray by putting out a false (at worst) and selective (at best) version of the past history of the Social Democratic (Labour) Party, claiming that it was pro-Nazi in the 1930s and ’40s, and embraced ‘eugenic’ social policies thereafter. There’s some truth in the latter, but the Socialists weren’t alone in Sweden in this. Yesterday there appeared an authoritative riposte in Dagens Nyheter, penned by a number of top academic historians.

The SD’s approach looks very much like the same cynical tactic employed by the Trumpists against the Democrats in America, and the Israel Lobby against Corbyn in Britain. Maybe Steve Bannon has had a word in their ears. For those who read Swedish, the foregoing article has some excellent points not only on this, but on the selective use of history generally.

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Swedish Depression

The Stockholm Archipelago is wonderful this summer, if rather over-baked; and a good place to get away from Brexit, Trump and the awful ‘anti-semitism’ row; but those three still plague my nights, and add to my endemic depression, which always flares up worst at four in the mornings. I have to say I feel pretty desperate just now.

Was there ever a worse time in modern British politics? My current holiday reading is Robert Harris’s Munich.  1938 ought to have been more depressing than today. But at least the only madman then was on the other side, and there seemed to be straightforward ways of avoiding disaster: either by averting war, or by uniting patriotically to fight it. It’s difficult to see a way out of our present existential mess that doesn’t leave half the country alienated, bitter and mean.

Maybe it would be more straightforward if Corbyn were replaced by a Labour leader who was more unequivocally against Brexit. (My daughter, here last week, has almost persuaded me of this.) Or Corbyn might be swayed this way as public opinion turns against Brexit and its ‘madmen’, just before the next election. Then it might be a better political tide to ride.

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A Dark Place

It really is difficult to understand how – in what historically has probably been the second safest home in the world for Jews, and where anti-semitism, although occasionally rearing its ugly head, has been far less common and extreme than in most other European countries – the charge  of anti-semitism has recently been levelled against the Labour Party, and its leader in particular, whose stand against racism of any sort is one of their defining features.

Last week the three leading British Jewish newspapers, deploying identical headlines, described Jeremy Corbyn as an ‘existential threat’ against Jews in Britain; which, if it means anything, means that he presents a danger to their ‘existence’ – their life – in the country. As the Jewish journalist Robert Cohen wrote in the piece I quoted in my last blog: ‘You’re probably thinking that Her Majesty’s Government must have just introduced the equivalent of Hitler’s Nuremberg race Laws of 1935. Perhaps it’s worse. Perhaps the round-ups have already begun.’ – The evidence for this is of course non-existent. The whole thing is a foul slur on a good man and a generally well-meaning party. Which is why Corbyn apparently feels so hurt, and many of us British anti-racists are genuinely puzzled. Could it possibly be because we are simply unaware of – insensitive to – the implied anti-semitism in Corbyn’s words and actions?

If so, the words and actions objected to are obviously those directed against the Israeli government and its treatment of its Arab minority and neighbours, which in some cases might derive from an underlying racist anti-semitism, but don’t need to, and almost certainly don’t in Corbyn’s case. The recent Israeli government has surely done enough to deserve the strictures heaped upon it without anti-semitism entering into it. In a rational world, these actions and events – like similar actions and events perpetrated by other governments, including our own – should be able to be debated in a reasonable way, without fear of being tarred with the vilest epithet in the liberal’s vocabulary. The injustice – even crime – that the very foundation of the Israeli state, without the permission of those who occupied the land before it, involves; Israel’s blatant imperialism – a phenomenon generally vilified in modern history – in the ‘occupied territories’; Israel’s obvious racism, tightened recently by Netanyahu’s new Nationality law; and of course its recent over-reactions to mainly peaceful Palestinian demonstrations against it: all should be proper topics of cool, rational debate, without those raising them being accused of racism themselves. None of these charges should be thought to endanger the ‘existence’ of Jews in Britain, or even of the State of Israel. Past crimes can be forgiven, and the new world they have created accepted, as has happened elsewhere; so long as the crimes are acknowledged, and not repeated. In my view that should increase Israel’s security. It’s on that basis that I consider myself to be more of a ‘friend’ of Israel – and certainly of the Jewish people, or those I have known – than those who purport to be their friends on the Right.

Faced with these extraordinary attacks on Corbyn and Labour, and if we assume that they are misdirected, there are only two conclusions that can be be drawn. One is that their critics genuinely do believe that criticism of the present government of Israel and support for a Palestinian state are anti-semitic in themselves: which implies an extension of the meaning of the term that very few rational people would accept. The second is, as many commentators have suggested, that it’s all contrived; a plot to block a Corbyn government that they fear on other grounds – his socialism, for example, or his criticisms of the present Right-wing government of Israel; and which they think could be stymied by smearing him with this hated, Hitlerian slur. In this they seem to be working hand in glove with the Conservatives (traditionally and currently the more anti-semitic of the two main parties) and the right-wing press; who probably don’t believe Corbyn is anti-semitic either, but are unprincipled enough to use any weapon that comes to hand.

For me that’s almost the most distressing aspect of the affair. If it is a ‘conspiracy’, then it’s one perpetrated by Jews; or by what is now  widely known as the ‘Israeli Lobby’. That takes us into a dark place. Jews have been a favourite targets of ‘conspiracy theorists’ for (literally) hundreds of years. Alleged Jewish plots – many of them international in scope – have lain behind, or at least been used to justify, some of the most horrific crimes in history, including of course the Nazi Holocaust. ‘Jewish conspiracy’ is a dangerous trope.

It’s for this reason that I, for one, hope that the current Jewish-led anti-Labour campaign isn’t a conspiracy. I’d prefer to believe that those who are responsible for it are simply mistaken, led by what they take to be their Jewish loyalties to  irrational and deeply dangerous conclusions. Many Jews – like those referenced in previous posts here – are distancing themselves from it. That can only aid the genuinely Jewish cause.

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The Risk of Anti-Semitism

Holidaying in the Stockholm Archipelago with children, partners, grandchildren and various Aussie and US relatives-in-law; so not much time for blogging. But to be going on with, I think this is splendid: Just what I’ve been saying recently, but better. And from a Jew. God (or whoever) bless him.

I may resume blogging later with some thoughts on ‘conspiracy theories’. This could qualify as one.

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