Corbyn’s enemies are clearly leaving no stone unturned to prove the contrived and ridiculous charge that he is anti-semitic. The very latest piece of ‘evidence’ is that he contributed a short introduction to a new edition of JA Hobson’s Imperialism: A Study (1902), which according to today’s Times was ‘about Jews controlling banks and the press’. Not only that, but Corbyn had the effrontery to call the work a ‘great tome’, ‘brilliant, and very controversial at the time’ (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/corbyn-endorsed-book-about-jews-controlling-banks-and-the-press-x6nd73jrq). – Which of course it was, laying the foundation of what became known as the ‘Marxist’ or capitalist ‘theory’ of imperialism, and consequently of what could be regarded as one of the main ideological battles of the 20th century.
But it emphatically wasn’t about ‘Jews controlling banks’. It was about western imperialism, and its roots in capitalist over-production, using examples taken from the recent Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), where goldmine-owning capitalists – many of them Jewish – were very visibly involved. The book, in other words, is about capitalism and imperialism, not semitism. And that is the aspect of the book that justifies its description as ‘great’ and ‘brilliant’.
I know a bit about this, having chosen Hobson for my PhD thesis subject in 1963, and published the first solid book about him and other anti-imperialists (some of them not all that anti, as it happens) as long ago as 1968: Critics of Empire; reissued in 2008 by IB Tauris, with a new Introduction (by me). Of course I spotted the anti-semitic references – look up ‘Jews’ in the Index – but came to the conclusion, summarised in a footnote on page 202, that they didn’t indicate any genuine anti-semitic feeling on Hobson’s part. He opposed the South African Jewish capitalists, who he claimed were mostly German, and consequently without British interests at heart, because they were capitalists, not because they were Jews. His daughter, whom I interviewed, talked to me about his Jewish friends – if that means anything. His comments about the Rand Jews – ‘the veriest scum of Europe’ (that’s not in Imperialism, A Study, but in a letter to the editor of the Manchester Guardian) – read appallingly today. There are even suggestions of ‘conspiracy theory’ in them: ‘Many of them have taken English names and the extent of the Jew power is thus partially concealed’ (from the same letter). But in 1900 most people could distinguish between anti-capitalism and anti-semitism.
I doubt whether Corbyn was even aware of the references to Jews in Imperialism, A Study when he agreed to endorse it. They don’t leap out at the reader, unless he or she is deliberately looking for them. Corbyn’s admiration for the book is no more a sign of anti-semitism than is mine. I sometimes wish that the anti-antisemites, wherever they come from – they’re not all Jews; and not all Jews swallow their lies about Corbyn – would focus their attention on the real enemies of their religion or ‘race’, who are predominantly on the Right of British and American politics, rather than on their anti-racist friends.