Recognise who was behind Powell too

I once had the opportunity to do serious physical harm to Enoch Powell and it still shocks me that I even contemplated it. It was around 1987. I had arranged to meet a Palestinian friend outside Gloucester Road tube. She would be taking me to a meeting nearby of other Palestinians and supporters of their struggle for justice. As I waited for her, I saw an old man, fairly smartly dressed and wearing a hat, who was having to make quite an effort to climb the stairs that led up to ground level from the tube. He was definitely familiar. It took no more than a few seconds to recognise Enoch Powell. I felt rage inside for so many victims of racial violence, including young people with their lives ahead of them who had died, their attackers ultimately inspired by his hateful words. I fleetingly, but seriously, contemplated turning and “accidentally ” bumping into him as he reached the top of the stairs, making him tumble down them.

I am a socialist because I choose love over hate and believe in the capacity for (almost everyone) to become fully human, cooperative, and imbued with a desire to live equally with their fellow human beings. I hate the policies that cause such misery and impoverishment for many, but I rarely personalise that. In Powell’s case I make an exception, and still feel 50 years on from his Rivers of Blood speech, that the BBC have been marketing with such tabloid sensationalism, (just responding to everyone’s deep interest in the phenomenon, you understand), I can feel hate, although I know it is a different kind of hate to that which he admitted harbouring as a young man.

Last night I hurt my back digging in corners of my office space so that I could rummage through a couple of boxes of old pamphlets for one I knew was there somewhere. Sure enough I found it. Published in June 1969, by the Labour Research Department (LRD), Its title, Powell and his Allies, was printed in a suitably Gothic font. I have never thought it a coincidence that his searing and poisonous “Rivers of Blood” speech was delivered on Adolf Hitler’s birthday, a date on which small groups of far-right activists have not only held memorial ceremonies but often committed outrageous acts. Hitler would have been celebrating  his 81st birthday that day, had the Nazis succeeded and his own health been sustained.

I remembered correctly that the LRD pamphlet began with a short verse written by Powell as a young man, which gave a clue to the values that would shape his later life:

“I hate the ugly, hate the old
I hate the lame and weak.
But most of all I hate the dead
Who lie so still in their earthen bed,
And never dare to rise”

IMG_5421The pamphlet exposes the typical features of Powell’s speeches that inspired admiration among those susceptible, and hatred among those who saw it plainly for what it was: the sense of foreboding, the harsh and threatening language, the wildly exaggerated statistics plucked from thin air, meant to scare and enrage his audience, the cynical attempts to personalise his arguments with made up characters, which also betrayed his sexism – the helpless “little old lady” – the sole white inhabitant in the street, terrorised by her black neighbours, trailed by “wide grinning piccaninnies” who can’t speak the language properly  except for the word “racialist” which they chant; the little old lady who is made to feel “a stranger in her own home” by her new and unwelcome neighbours, painted in the least flattering way.

The pamphlet says: “His metaphors and adjectives are almost exclusively ugly and cruel; his speeches are splattered with ‘evils’, ‘insane’, ‘mad’, ‘lunacy’, ‘tyranny’, ‘conspiracy’, ‘filthy’, etc.” it draws attention to violent and military associated phrases that pepper his speeches too: ‘invasion of our body politic’, ‘alien territory’, ‘occupied’, ‘detachments from … the West Indies or India and Pakistan encamped in certain areas’, ‘whip hand’, ‘blood’, ‘national disaster’.

In telling us about his allies – the key purpose of the pamphlet – it reveals an important point lost on too many anti-racists, who often imagine the kind of people who would respond positively to these hateful messages as poor, uneducated, hopeless, and embittered; an underclass looking for someone to blame for their own condition.

We know that Powell generated active support from low paid workers – dockers in an industry that was rapidly declining, Smithfield Market porters, who got up to do their hard physical work at unearthly hours. When those porters joined dockers on a political strike to march to Parliament in support of Powell, they were led by Danny Harmston, a bodyguard for the veteran fascist Oswald Mosley in the 1960s. Harmston himself stood as a parliamentary candidate in Islington for Sir Oswald Mosley’s fascist Union Movement in the 1966 General Election. But the great strength of this pamphlet is how it shows the support Powell got from the highest echelons of society especially in the business world

And Powell gave something back to them. Alongside his well-known racist views, Powell 6a0120a58872a6970b013480715be5970c-800wisaid “When I see a rich man I give thanks to God.” He described how, when he was kneeling in church “i think to myself  how much we should thank God, the Holy Ghost for the gift of capitalism”. Powell attacked the concept of council housing as “immoral and socially damaging”. He condemned the “work-spreading, profit-hating, almost Luddite attitude of trade unionists”, and called for “denationalising industries. All of them”. In a very candid moment, interviewed by the Daily Telegraph in October 1968, he describes himself as “a virus. I am the virus that kills socialists.”

One group of key Powellite supporters organised themselves in the “Society for Individual Freedom”. They enthusiastically lapped up his racist messages which they married with their absolute commitment to free enterprise and shrinking the state. At the time they had 35 MPs and several members of the House of Lords among their members. They were captains of industry such as Sir John Rodgers, MP for Sevenoaks and director of the world’s largest advertising agency; Lord Lyle, simultaneously a director of Tate and Lyle and of Rhodesian Sugar Refiners; and Lord Renwick who chaired the institute of Directors and sat of the board of British United Industrialists, which gathered huge amounts of money from companies to hand over as donations to the Tory Party. In other words, he had a lot of support from the upper and  upper-middle classes who have inflicted so much capitalist damage on people’s lives as well as through their influence in politics. And these people were racist through and through, supporting the vestiges of white supremacy in Rhodesia and South Africa. The Tory Monday Club, on the far-right of the party was another home for these types, and their strongest period was in the decade after Powell’s speech.

At the other end of society it did indeed give strength to that underclass who felt disenfranchised and disempowered, and who drew a simple conclusion from Powell’s words – to go “Paki-bashing”, to put bricks through the home of African-Caribbean neighbours. Almost a decade on from Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech there was a spate of vicious racist attacks especially in East London which resulted in the deaths of a young Sikh, Kenneth Singh, in Newham, a Bengali clothing worker, Altab Ali, in Whitechapel,  Micheal Ferreira, a young man from a Caribbean family in Hackney, and another young  Bengali, Ishaque Ali. But the first murder victim in East London was Tosir Ali in April 1970 – a Wimpy Bar worker – attacked by two skinheads as he walked home from work. They slit his throat and left him to die.

That violence was commonplace in the febrile atmosphere created by Powell and the far right organisations he gave a boost to, such as the National Front (NF) formed in 1967. In the next few years the NF was able to recruit many of those young skinheads and give them a fuller ideological “education” about who their enemies in society were. And while we remember the names of those whose lives were actually ended, we are less familiar with the catalogue of young people who suffered life-changing, life-limiting, injuries that can be traced back to the speeches of incitement by Enoch Powell.

Ten years after his Rivers of Blood speech he briefly returned to the limelight to give a speech in Billericay, Essex, in which he spoke of the “swamping” of inner cities. Inciting his audience not just to anger but to action, he told them “Violence does not break upon such a scene because it is willed or contrived … but because it lies in the inevitable course of events… those who foresaw and feared they would  be swamped will be driven by… strong impulses and interests to resist and prevent it”. The very next day 150 NF-supporting skinheads did just that, as they rampaged down Brick Lane attacking Bengalis on the street and in their shops, injuring many.

It was those victims, and the often powerless but poisoned perpetrators, who were deep in my consciousness as I saw Powell slowly ascending the stairs of the tube station I was waiting at, but I also had in mind those very well placed in high society who easily marry deeply racist ideas with commitment to their gods of profit, property and economic 7d721f7c-6a75-4252-ba53-37fff9e648e9_mw1024_n_spower and control. Several years after Powell was booted from the central political stage and regarded as a bitter has-been, his admirers such as Margaret Thatcher were elbowing their way to the top. Today, in the era of Theresa May, the vestiges of the Monday Club and Powellism are found in the Traditional Britain Group, a deeply racist and dangerous organisation, filled with people from the most economically privileged sectors of society, led by Tory members Gregory Lauder-Frost and Lord Sudely. They regularly  provide a platform for alt-right antisemitic, Islamophobic, white supremacists from several countries. Our struggles against racism and fascism must always be a struggle simultaneously against capitalism and the upper eschelons of society.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Time for Labour’s leaders to call their opponents’ bluff

30530954_10156227870123320_5400229481258418176_nJewish families in Dollis Hill, north-west London, woke yesterday to find they had been the targets of a horrifying antisemitic attack. This was not an unpleasant Facebook post, or a garbled report of what someone said to someone else about what was said at a meeting, but huge swastikas and Nazi SS symbols painted on the pavement outside houses in a street where many Jewish people live, on the window at a bus stop and on street signs. It was similar to a spate of incidents that targeted Jewish families in another part of north west London in January 2017. On that occasion the attacks included a brick with antisemitic messages arriving through one family’s window. The victims of this weekend’s outrage must have been thinking, if only there was an organised campaign against antisemitism that would come down immediately, give support to the families, tell them who they think the perpetrators might be, and offer them a plan of action.

Well, it turns out there is such a campaign, but it was too busy to help yesterday. The self-styled “Campaign Against Antisemitism” (CAA), was instead standing in the rain holding Union Jacks as it demonstrated outside the national office of the political party that has brought in almost every single piece of equalities and race relations legislation in Britain, and whose MPs can regularly be found addressing anti-racist and anti-fascist gatherings. The crowd the CAA attracted booed the name of Labour politicians, and at least one speaker compared Jeremy Corbyn to Adolf Hitler.

If there was one crumb of comfort for rational, sane people from this Alice in Campaign-Against-anti-Semitism-1298387Wonderland scenario, it was that despite many thousands of pounds being spent on targeted advertising  for this “national” demonstration, all they could muster was a few hundred. The Jewish Chronicle, whose reporters are no Corbynistas, put the figure as low as 500 demonstrators. Even if these were all Jews – and evidence provided by photographers of faces in the crowd and placards of Christian Zionists organisations who were bussed down from Scotland belies this –  we are talking about a mobilisation of, at most 0.2% of Britain’s Jews. Other observers who took panoramic photos of the crowd at its height put the figure at no more than 150-200. The organisers, used to inflating their own importance, naturally inflated the figures as well – to 2,000, a figure repeated in Israeli newspapers. Our domestic newspapers, which failed to report a considerably bigger demonstration in central London the day before, to protest the killings of unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza, nevertheless reported yesterday’s flop uncritically.

If the larger protests in Parliament Square led by the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council on 26th March, alleging “endemic” antisemitism in the Labour Party, could draw a thin veil over a patently pro-Tory agenda, by offering speaker slots to anti-Corbyn Labour representatives, there were no pretences yesterday. One invited speaker, a former Labour Party donor who quit the party last month, who spoke of the need to rebuild relations between the Jewish community and the Labour Party, was shouted down with cries of “Off! Off! Off!” and “Vote Tory!”

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Flowers outside Finsbury Park mosque after murderous islamophobic attack

Nobody can or should seek to deny that antisemitism has deep roots in many European societies, including Britain, but to imagine it arises disproportionately within the party which has the strongest record of opposing all racism, is perverse (and contradicted by the latest You Gov analysis). Antisemitic attacks should never be downplayed. Unfortunately there are elements within the left who mistakenly do that. But it is also important to keep matters in perspective. It tends to rise and fall in tandem with other forms of racism that have been fuelled in Britain in very lean years economically that have heightened social stresses. Islamophobic hate crimes in London soared 40% in 2017 from 1,205 to 1,678. The perpetrators, where identified, are usually white racists. National figures last updated in March 2018 show Black people and especially Black youth, are six times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. Roma people and Poles have also been targeted in viciuous racist hate crimes.

So, who can turn this racist tide around? The party whose Foreign Secretary talks of piccaninnies, led by the former Home Secretary who introduced the infamous “go home” vans, targeting migrants who had “overstayed”? A party whose policies on every reliable measure have increased poverty, despair and homelessness, leaving increasing numbers of people prey to those who will seek to turn their anger, hopelessness and frustration into scapegoating of immigrants? Really?

There is an opportunity on 3rd May to answer this question by electing committed anti-racists and anti-fascists as councillors, from a Labour Party that has unequivocally positioned itself, under its current leadership, as an anti-austerity party. Less than a month ago, the Tories were on the ropes and fighting with each other over Brexit. Many Tories wanted Theresa May to quit but feared an even more divisive and incompetent successor. The polls were showing that they would struggle to hold on to their flagship councils in London such as Westminster and Wandsworth, and that they could even be in trouble in Barnet, where Jewish voters, conditioned by constant propaganda to see Labour as the home of the “new antisemitism”, make up 20% of the electorate.

But that palpable sense of panic in Tory ranks has been pushed out of the news by an opportunist campaign that has latched on to a tiny number of real incidents involving Labour members and antisemitism that need to be addressed. That campaign has wildly and deliberately exaggerated their overall significance, thrown in ambiguous historical incidents as if they are of burning significance today; and completely obscured the bigger picture of rising racism against a range of communities that has occurred on the Tories’ watch and with Tory complicity.

Those pushing that campaign – right wing dominated Jewish bodies, falsely claiming to be representative of the politically and economically diverse Jewish community in Britain –  have acted predictably. But the real culprits are the mainstream media, from the “quality“ broadsheets to the tabloids (with a couple of honourable exceptions), who have willingly fallen into line behind this campaign, and have ignored or marginalised other critical Jewish voices. The media are quite cynically betraying the victims of Tory misrule over the country – people from all communities, including the Jewish community – who are experiencing the Tories’ heartless attack on health, social services and social care, the working families forced to use food banks, the spiralling numbers of young workers on zero hour contracts, and the growing numbers of homeless.

It is time for the Labour leadership to call the bluff of these newspapers and of the opportunistic campaigns promoted by puffed-up but unrepresentative Jewish “leaders”. Labour needs to set rather than follow the agenda here, and state boldly that it understands exactly what is at stake for the most vulnerable sectors of society in these elections, sectors which include many members of ethnic minorities.

Labour must declare that between now and those elections, it will not be diverted by negative headlines and accusations of being soft on antisemitism, from the task of delivering a result that will bring many more anti-austerity and anti-racist councillors into office, who will make a profound material difference on the ground in their local communities. Labour should state that it expects every single Labour politician at national and local level to make this their number one priority. It was a good sign that no Labour politicians joined the CAA rally yesterday.

Labour should declare that it will take no lectures on this from the Tory Party that, at the

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American white-supremacist Richard Spencer

European level, happily works with openly xenophobic, anti-migrant and antisemitic parties, while here in Britain it maintains fluid boundaries with antisemites, Holocaust deniers and revisionists, alt-right eugenicists and identitarians, through the Traditional Britain Group which is led by the active Tory members, Lord Sudeley and Gregory Lauder-Frost.

And Labour needs to demand something of its own supporters and activists: that they should be wise to provocations, and refuse to be drawn into any more petty confrontations with those perpetuating diversionary debates.

We need to keep our eyes on the prize – an overwhelmingly positive result in the local elections that will be the springboard for defeating the party of privilege and division, and their cynical supporters, at the General Election.

There will be a vigil in Dollis Hill from 7-10pm Tuesday 10th April: https://www.facebook.com/events/435612193528744/

So who are those Tories cosying up to?

If you were feeling a bit overpowered by the whiff of hypocrisy coming off the large number of Tory MPs, and their DUP friends, including Norman Tebbit and Ian Paisley Jr, who joined the “anti-racist” protest against Jeremy Corbyn in Parliament Square last Monday, to say “enough is enough” about alleged antisemitism in the Labour Party, then I would strongly advise you to be very careful where you travel in Europe.

In particular, I would recommend that you avoid Strasbourg and Brussels where you might find yourself inadvertently hanging out with Tory MEPs, and their close friends, who certainly have a whiff of something unpleasant about them.

At David Cameron’s behest in 2009, Tory MEPs left the centre-right grouping they had formerly been part of to form a new, more right-wing alliance. The Tories are the largest group in that 72-member alliance, the next biggest faction being the Polish  Law and Justice Party (PiS). Yes,you have heard of them. They made headlines lately with their new law which is attempting to rewrite Holocaust history. They are making it illegal to suggest any complicity by Poles in the genocide of Jews during the war.

As the ruling party in Poland they are also trying to rehabilitate the honour of the ultra-nationalist, antisemitic, right-wing Polish parties active before the war. Hot on the heels of the controversial Holocaust history bill, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki lit a candle and laid a wreath at the Munich grave site of the Holy Cross Mountains Brigade, a Polish

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Polish ultra-nationalists

underground military unit who collaborated with Nazi Germany against communists during the Second World War. These kinds of actions are giving increased confidence to Poland’s neo-Nazis who were the leading forces among a 60,000 strong ultra-nationalist march through Warsaw last November.

The alliance’s junior partners include the  Danish People’s Party (DF) described by some commentators as “right-wing populist” by others simply as “Far right”. Islamophobia is the DF’s main racism of choice, one of their spokespersons opining “Muslims should live in a Muslim country – not here”. I doubt, though, if that would put off Jonathan Arkush, the Tory-supporting-Trump-supporting, President of the Jewish Board of Deputies, fronting Monday’s rally in the Square, since the DF are very enthusiastic supporters of Israel under its leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

I wonder how Arkush and his counterpart at the rally, Jonathan Goldstein, of the Jewish Leadership  Council, feel about other members of this Tory/Law and Justice-led alliance, such as the Latvian National Alliance  made up of “All for Latvia”, which  describes “international globalism” and “multiculturalism” as its chief enemies, and its partners, “For Fatherland and Freedom”. This National Alliance takes part in an annual event commemorating the Latvian Waffen-SS, and some years back reprinted a book seeking to justify the crimes committed by the Latvian Waffen-SS against Jews and Russians.

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Marching to remember Hristo Lukov

Another member of this right-wing European grouping who, also, it seems, enjoy a good march, are the Bulgarian National Movement (IMRO). In February, for the 16th consecutive year, they held a march through the centre of Sofia to honour Hristo Lukov, an army general who led the pro-Nazi Union of National Legions during the war. The march ended by the house where Lukov was assassinated by communist partisans. Neo-nazis from several other parts of Europe flew in to take part in the march. IMRO also express racist sentiments against Bulgarian Turks and Roma communities.

While it is true that a number of anti-Corbyn Labour MPs were present last Monday, and Luciana Berger spoke for them at the rally in Parliament Square, the collusion between the Tory Party, the Tory supporting press, and the right-wing self-proclaimed leaders of the Jewish community, this week, has been plain to see. No doubt a number of protesters came there in good faith to protest against antisemitism, having been conditioned by constant right-wing press stories, including those by the Jewish Chronicle, to believe that instances of antisemitism only occur in the ranks of Labour (and, of course, there have been real instances), but others would have taken part knowing the damage this could inflict not just on Labour’s leader, but on the Labour Party in general in the forthcoming local elections. One Tory activist, David Thomas, a former Conservative parish councillor was honest enough to tweet “It’s an actual stroke of genius we’ve been able to pull this off, perfect timing heading into the elections too” (My emphasis). He has since deleted the tweet.

It appears that those Jewish “leaders” who are cosying up to the Tories for mutual benefits can only look in one direction as they seek to uncover antisemitism. Have we heard any of them speak out against, let alone even question, the highly dubious alliance the Tories have built and are sustaining with Islamophobes and antisemites in the Tory-led Group in the European Parliament? Why ever not?

Theresa May now plans to take advantage of the febrile atmosphere around the theresa-may-an103106230epa05433683question of antisemitism by earmarking April 17th for a parliamentary debate about it. All racism is serious. It is surely one of the main failures of May’s Government, and Cameron’s before her, that antisemitism has been rising as have other forms of racism and bigotry against African-Caribbeans, Muslims, Roma, refugees, and members of the LGBT community on their watch. This has multiplied further  since the Brexit Referendum. Minorities who face much more frequent instances of abuse and attack by racists than Jews do, and encounter institutional racism on a daily basis, might be angry that the Tories sudden desire to spend an afternoon discussing racism is limited to only one kind. They surely have a point. Nevertheless, Labour should absolutely welcome this debate.

Not only will it give parliamentarians the chance to explore the issue in depth and share their understandings, it will also provide Labour with the opportunity to put the Government on the spot about their institutional links to antisemites and other racists in Europe. For all their bluster when confronting Labour, the Tory-supporting leaders of the Jewish Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council seem much too coy to do that to their own side. I hope Jeremy Corbyn and other members of the Labour Party can show them how it is done!

 

 

 

 

 

Enough is Enough: What would Mandela have said?

A towering clay figure stands in the North Western corner of Parliament Square – Nelson Mandela – whose statue was unveiled in 2007. I was there when it was unveiled, feeling a personal as well as political connection. The Anti-Apartheid Movement was the first political organisation I joined. Many years later, as a primary school teacher, I taught an 8-year-old boy called Levi, who was immensely proud of his grandfather, Ian Walters, who made the statue. Levi brought in a framed photo of the unveiling to show off to his classmates.

Nelson-Mandela-statue-in-Parliament-square-by-Prioryman-on-Wikimedia-CommonsMandela, 89 at the time of the unveiling, was typically modest. He said: “The history of the struggle in South Africa is rich with the stories of heroes and heroines… All of them deserve to be remembered. We thank the British people once again for their relentless efforts in supporting us during the dark years.”

It was a very generous comment.  Although the Anti-Apartheid movement won enormous support from the British public – hundreds of thousands took part in protest marches and rallies, and millions boycotted South African goods – among the mainstream political parties, only Labour and the Liberals emerge with credit. The Tories, under successive leaders, and especially Thatcher, argued forcefully against sanctions on this brutal racist regime, which murdered children protesting on the streets. Her husband, like many other leading Tories, had investments in South Africa.  In that final decade before the fall of apartheid, while those Tories were busy guarding their investments, and a section of the Young Tories were producing posters and t-shirts saying “Hang Nelson Mandela”, many Labour politicians were present in the front ranks of demonstration activity, especially the newly elected member for Islington North, Jeremy Corbyn, who was arrested for his efforts.

Britain was also home to exiled South Africans, who continued to contribute to the struggle politically from Britain, such as the Jewish ANC activist Ben Turok, born to to Russian Bundists (anti-Zionist Jewish socialists) in South Africa in 1927. Turok stood with Mandela, Oliver Tambo and others in the Treason Trial from 1956-60. He later served three years in Pretoria Prison, on at least one occasion alongside Mandela. When I interviewed him in 1986, he told me that although he felt very attached to Yiddish culture (he showed me a poem in Yiddish his mother sent him when he was imprisoned with Mandela), he and  other Jewish activists felt compelled to choose between the Jewish community and the liberation struggle.

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Ben Turok

Politically, the Jewish community was closely policed by the South African Board of Deputies. In a literal sense. While the main government-supporting Afrikaans press were producing classic antisemitic cartoons about Jewish financiers, Turok told me that the Board of Deputies were busy informing on Jewish anti-apartheid activists to the SA authorities, handing over personal details.

Turok had a private meeting with Gus Seron, leader of the SA Board of Deputies, encouraging the Board to at least give some indication of support for democratic and anti-racist positions: “We wanted the Jewish Board to give some recognition to the fact that the Black people of South Africa had legitimate aspirations. We were not asking them to get guns and fight. We were asking them to make some gesture of recognition. They refused to do that.”

Our own Board of Deputies are little better. Their appalling record in the 1930s, when they seemed to spend more time criticising Jewish anti-fascists than combating Oswald Mosley’s hooligans, and famously advised Jews to stay indoors and pull down the shutters rather than confront the fascists at the Battle of Cable street, is well known. Thankfully the Jewish public ignored them then. Grassroots activists explained the reason why: they regarded the Board as the old establishment and thoroughly unrepresentative.

Always a socially conservative force in the Jewish community, they continue today to be led and dominated by supporters of the Tory Party that defended apartheid South Africa. They still pursue a relentless anti-left agenda, and frequently identify internationalist left movements as antisemites. Mandela’s statue must have thought he was in an “Alice in Wonderland” world as he stared down at the current Board of Deputies president, Jonathan Arkush, addressing a crowd of several hundred Jews who welcomed into their ranks that evening non-Jewish guests, such as DUP luminaries, Nigel Dodds, Sammy Wilson and Ian Paisley jr, the veteran far right Tory Norman Tebbit who famously talked of a “cricket test” for immigrants to show how patriotically British they were, and Zac Goldsmith who ran the most appallingly Islamophobic campaign for Mayor against Sadiq Khan in 2016. In the name of anti-racism, and especially the fight against antisemitism, Arkush was ranting against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose record on anti-racism and on support for human rights, among the current crop of parliamentarians, is second to none.

Anti-racism is not a pick and choose activity. And nor is support for human rights. Jeremy Corbyn knows that. Arkush, however, has never criticised the terrible human rights record of the Israeli Government towards the Palestinians. He is a firm supporter of the most right-wing, racist and pro-settler government Israel has ever had. The Board of Deputies, and their co-sponsors of Monday’s demonstration, the self-proclaimed Jewish Leadership Council, had not a word of criticism for Zac Goldsmith’s dog-whistle mayoral campaign.

Antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of racism rise in tandem, as we have seen in Donald Trump’s America, and are seeing today in central and eastern Europe, where far right forces are growing in strength and entering government. Most  commentators would have little difficulty in making the connection between government policies in these countries and the very congenial atmosphere that they have engendered for racists, white supremacists and fascists.  Just this week it was reported that here in Britain, there was a 28% increase in referrals to the Government’s Prevent programme of young people influenced by far right ideology. This is happening on the watch of Prime Minister Theresa May. Jewish bodies report a significant increase in antisemitic abuse and attacks in 2017. Where the perpetrators and their moitives have been identified, most of these incidents are connected with far right ideology. Again on the watch of Theresa May. And yet, bizarrely, Jewish leaders are trying to damn Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, the very party responsible for practically every piece of anti-discrimination law in Britain, laws which were first put in place while many Tories were investing in apartheid South Africa and condemning anti-apartheid activists as communists and extremists.

If the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, and their bigoted DUP friends, want to belatedly take a stand against all racism, they might want to look instead at the groups attached to the Conservative party who are developing ever closer relations with the Alt-Right and Identitarian Movement, and who are promoting white supremacism, opposition to multiculturalism, and state-assisted repatriation of immigrants to their “natural homelands”, such as the Traditional Britain Group (TBG). This group was founded by Tory Party member Gregory Lauder Frost (currently its Vice-President), and presided over by Tory peer Lord Sudeley.

In the 1990s Lauder Frost happily shared a platform with Holocaust revisionists and deniers such as David Irving and Ernst Zundel. He has described the Nuremberg trials as a “farce”, and said he was opposed to Britain declaring war on Nazi Germany. Much more recently he was taped by an undercover reporter calling Stephen Lawrence’s mother, Baroness Lawrence, a “nigger”, and radio presenter Vanessa Feltz, a “fat Jewish slag”.  Of Nelson’s Mandela’s continent, Lauder Frost says: “we owe Africa nothing. it owes us… for lifting it out of barbarism.”

Tory MP Jacob Rees Mogg gave a talk to the Traditional Britain Group in 2011 and

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Jacob Rees Mogg and Gregory Lauder Frost at a meeting of the Traditional Britain Group

chatted amiably with Lauder Frost who was sitting next to him at the event. In 2013 the TBG gave a platform to key figures from the Alt-right/White supremacist movement internationally such as Richard Spencer from America, and also to Alex Kurtagic, a far right identitarian. Last year TBG welcomed Dr Thomas Hubner from the extreme right Austrian Freedom Party which has now entered a coalition government there, and Bruno Gollnisch an MEP of the French National Front

The TBG is determined to educate its members in its ideology. Its “recommended reading” on its website includes My Life, the autobiography of Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists, Revolt against the Modern World, by Julius Evola who is regarded as an inspirational philosophical thinker by many fascists, Heredity and Humanity, the work of the “race scientist” Roger Pearson, a retired British anthropologist, and fierce defender of “Aryan” racial superiority, who has maintained ties to numerous neo-Nazi groups and individuals. And, to bring us back to southern Africa, the TBG also encourages you to sample The Great Betrayal, by Ian Smith about the apartheid country he governed, then called Rhodesia.

The Traditional Britain Group, led by Tory members,  have called for the  removal of one monument from Parliament Square – the statue of the great anti-racist fighter and leader Nelson Mandela. Why am I not surprised?

 

Shout-out to Warsaw anti-racists

My speech Whitehall at the March Against Racism, London 17th March 2018, as part of the UN Day Against Racism

Greetings to anti-racist London and a special shout-out to our comrades marching in

speaking at March v Racism 2018

David Rosenberg speaking. Photo: Julia Bard

Warsaw today. Next month is the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising when 220 Jewish fighters, the youngest just 13 years old, resisted the armed might of Nazi occupiers for three weeks.

But any commemorations in Poland this year are overshadowed by the current Polish government’s disgraceful attempt to rewrite Holocaust history and deny any Polish involvement. These actions give more confidence to Poland’s ultra nationalists and neo-Nazis, who don’t need any encouragement.

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Protesters on the march from the Polish organisation KOD

When the Polish Far right held a 60,000 strong march through Warsaw Last November, they shouted for a “Jew-free Poland”. Their banners said “Pray for Islamic Holocaust”. In Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, racists are targeting Muslims, Roma and Refugees as well as Jews.

The last surviving leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Marek Edelman, said: “to be a Jew means always being with the oppressed never with the oppressors”. The Jewish Socialists Group completely agree. Wherever people face oppression, live under violent occupation, suffer racial, sexual or homophobic discrimination and violence, their struggle is our struggle. As Jews, we stand unconditionally with our sisters and brothers in Muslim, Roma and Refugee communities.

In early May, there is another anniversary that is very meaningful for us. The 40th anniversary of the racist murder of Altab Ali, a young Bengali immigrant clothing worker in the East End, who lived and worked in the same streets where our families lived in the 1930s, when they were fighting poverty and Mosley’s fascists.

Altab Ali was stabbed to death in 1978, as he walked home from work. Killed by three teenagers whose minds had been poisoned by racism. Those teenagers werealtabalimetpoliceappeal not born racists. They learnt it from National Front propagandists, from mainstream newspaper editors who constantly wrote anti-immigrant, anti-refugee headlines, from police who ignored racial violence, and from overnments who treated immigrants as a problem, as an irritant, to be controlled or removed.

And those teenagers bought into the idea of nationalism, that spuriously divides people, that thinks majorities are superior and should have more rights than minorities, that offers the poor and exploited “White pride” Instead of jobs, houses, and social services.

As anti-racists we fight for a true multiculturalism that supports our languages, our identities our cultures, but also unites all our communities against poverty and exploitation. Nationalism can never be our friend. Nationalism can never be the answer.

Labour Party exclusions: we need justice for the many not just for the few

Iain McNicol , the departing General Secretary of the Labour Party, was determined to end his ignominious reign by going out with a bang. Yesterday his final act was revealed. He had extended Ken Livingstone’s two-year suspension indefinitely so that there could be further internal investigations, more hearings and possibly stronger disciplinary action. Livingstone’s suspension had been due to end on 27 April, this year.

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Iain McNicol

McNicol had clearly tipped off his friends – the right wing Labour MP Wes Streeting, and the pro-Zionist, anti-Corbyn, Jewish Labour Movement (JLM)  – so that, yesterday morning, both could be heard loudly expressing their fears that Labour would fail to win certain councils in May’s local government elections, if they did not take decisive action against Livingstone when his suspension ends. Voila, in the afternoon, comes the news of McNicol’s last exercise of his power. The JLM, which has its own internal crisis, after the sudden resignation of its leader Jeremy Newmark, and with the police starting an investigation relating to possible misuse of funds, can pretend to its supporters that it has its fingers on the pulse and can get results.

McNicol’s underhand, manipulative, unjust practices that manifested themselves in the period when he exerted control over the Labour Party’s inner rules and procedures, are remembered by the mainstream media mostly for the expulsion of veteran socialist, Professor Moshe Machover, the long suspension of Livingstone, and the expulsion most recently of Tony Greenstein. Each of these cases began with accusations around antisemitism, before their prosecutors shifted tactically to more winnable lines of argument.

Machover, a principled socialist who refrains from gratuitous abuse, never casually throws an accusation that he can’t back up, and who just happens also to be a professor of logic, outwitted those seeking to implement McNicol’s rules and methods. Having been summarily expelled, he won his case. In contrast, both Livingstone and probably even more so, Greenstein, have arguably been their own worse enemies, frequently setting out, it seems, either to offend or be as controversial as possible, whatever the collateral damage.  While claiming to have the interests of the Palestinians and Labour’s left leadership at heart, both have repeatedly provided ammunition on a plate to those who would dearly love to undermine Corbyn and smother the articulate and growing pro-Palestine and non- and anti-Zionist voices within the Labour Party.

In spite of Livingstone and Greenstein’s crass interventions, these critical voices have grown louder also

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Ken Livingstone

among Jewish Labour Party members who reject the policies of the Israeli government and are appalled at the daily abuses of Palestinians’ human rights by Israeli military forces in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. They now have an organisational form in Jewish Voice for Labour, launched at a Labour Conference fringe meeting last September with 300 in attendance.

When we assess McNicol’s reign we should not simply mirror the mainstream media and crude tabloids’ obsession with the likes of Livingstone. More than anything McNicol’s rule needs to be remembered for the unjust ways that thousands of ordinary members, not seeking infamy, were mistreated, especially in the periods around the two leadership elections that Jeremy Corbyn won.

Loyal members, who had given a lifetime of service to the party but who don’t have a high media profile, or have not cultivated a Facebook “fan” base,  found themselves, summarily suspended and, in some cases, expelled for five years on the most trivial and ridiculous grounds: making pointed but fair remarks about the attitudes and behaviour of right wingers in their branches and in the wider party; an NUT member on strike,  tweeting that it was good to see the Green Party supporting their demands; previous involvement with other parties – such as Greens or Lib-Dems. The list goes on. The Labour Party was recruiting rapidly in this period. Of course many new recruits would  have had previous political convictions but, in any case, there is a world of difference between being previously a member of the Greens and being previously a member of the Tories, UKIP or the BNP.

In many cases members were suspended, expelled, or excluded from voting in the leadership contest, with no proper reason given. An estimated 4,000 Labour members/supporters were deprived of a vote in the first leadership battle that Corbyn contested, and it is widely believed that these were overwhelmingly people who were intending to vote for Corbyn. Even larger numbers of potential Corbyn supporters were deprived of a vote second time round. But the real scandal of the second leadership battle was the decision, after the contest had been announced, to arbitrarily impose a voting qualification. This excluded at a stroke between 125,000-150,000 members, who had been in the party less than 6 months from the day the contest was formally declared. These were Labour’s newest enthusiastic recruits, and this was how McNicol and Co. welcomed them. Above all, though, this was a blatant attempt by McNicol and his close circle to rig the election against Jeremy Corbyn.

After a deluge of protests, a loophole appeared. People could cancel their membership and pay £25 for the privilege of voting as Labour supporters. Many did. Others who couldn’t  afford to do so remained excluded. These are examples of the kinds of practice in the Labour Party that must be investigated in Labour’s Democracy Review and never be allowed to happen again under its future General Secretaries.

Of course, there were small numbers of people who were rightly disciplined under McNicol’s regime, for antisemitism, other forms of racism, or extremely abusive behaviour to other members, but they would have been a tiny, tiny fraction compared with the numbers unjustly excluded.

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Shami Chakrabarti

Between the two leadership contests, Shami Chakrabarti led a Labour Party inquiry into antisemitism – the charge that received the most plentiful media coverage. But her report, thankfully, went a lot further and included a series of recommendations for handling disciplinary cases, highlighting the need for transparent processes, evidence-based investigations, natural justice, and proportionality with any disciplinary actions that result. She emphasised the need for cases to be dealt with speedily and fairly, and where possible to look for educational solutions rather than suspensions and exclusions.

Although the inquiry report, with its crucial recommendations, was posted on the Labour Party website, McNicol has done everything possible to delay or prevent its implementation. Last December, it mysteriously went missing from the Labour Party’s website altogether. Fortunately, that was spotted by an eagle-eyed member of Jewish Voice for Labour. After an outcry, it was restored. It is the Chakrabariti Inquiry Report that needs to be the central focus of our campaigning right now, if we are going to win justice for the many suspended and excluded by Labour, not just for the few.

One anniversary that passed us by

Anti-racists and anti-fascists have long memories. I can recall graphic details of how we were suddenly, forcefully, pushed to the back of Trafalgar Square by thick ranks of police, arms linked,  on my first anti-fascist demonstration in 1975, so that the plinth could be reserved for “race”-obsessed, Hitler worshipping, anti-immigrant agitators to practice their free speech.

I still have haunting memories of a march through south Hackney and Hoxton in 1977

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Hoxton NF activist, Derrick Day

where we were outnumbered by National Front members and supporters pouring on to the streets from the estates we walked through and the pubs we passed, to scream abuse and threaten us on the streets. One of them targeted myself and a group of young Jewish socialists. At spitting distance he was shouting, “You’re going to the gas chambers.”

I was out of London when the powerful Black People’s Day of Action march took place in 1981 following a fire at a house in New Cross where young people were partying. Thirteen black teenagers died in what is widely believed to have been a racist fire-bombing, Friends who marched that day have described that day of action to me relatively recently, as clearly as if it had happened last week.

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Enoch powell

Our memories are punctuated by anniversaries. In April this year we will recall the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination, and Enoch Powell’s poisonous “Rivers of Blood” speech. It will be the 25th anniversary of Stephen Lawrence’s murder by racist thugs as he waited a bus stop in Eltham south London, with his friend Duwayne Brooks. We will once again recall the appalling behaviour of the five police who arrived on the scene and treated Duwayne as the suspect. While Stephen Lawrence struggled for his life, not one of them attempted to give him mouth to mouth resuscitation. We know why.

Later that same year, myself and other family members, were among the 60,000 who were attempting to march on the  bookshop/HQ the British National Party had established in Welling, not that far from where Stephen Lawrence was murdered and a host of other horrific racist attacks had occurred.

I have no doubt these anniversaries will be marked this year. But one 40th anniversary on this theme, just a few days ago, seems to have passed us by. It didn’t take place on the streets. People experienced it in their living rooms, watching World in Action on television. On 30th January 1978, Gordon Burns interviewed the leader of the opposition at that time, Margaret Thatcher, in a period when the National Front were holding provocative marches on the streets aiming to intimidate minority communities and using every opportunity to push the propaganda line Enoch Powell popularised 10 years earlier: Stop Immigration Start Repatriation.

In the interview Thatcher expressed her fears and encouraged her white British viewers to share them:

“… by the end of the century there would be four million people of the new Commonwealth

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Margaret Thatcher

or Pakistan here. Now, that is an awful lot and I think it means that people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture and, you know, the British character has done so much for democracy, for law and done so much throughout the world that if there is any fear that it might be swamped people are going to react and be rather hostile to those coming in. So, if you want good race relations, you have got to allay people’s’ fears on numbers.…we cannot go on taking in that number…
there is a feeling that the big political parties have not been talking about this… as much as we should… that is one thing that is driving some people to the National Front. They do not agree with the objectives of the National Front, but they say that at least they are talking about some of the problems…  we ourselves must talk about this problem and we must show that we are prepared to deal with it. We are a British nation with British characteristics. Every country can take some small minorities and in many ways they add to the richness and variety of this country. The moment the minority threatens to become a big one, people get frightened.”

Burns interjected: “So, some of the support that the National Front has been attracting in recent by-elections you would hope to bring back behind the Tory party?”

Thatcher replied: “Oh, very much back…”

altabalimetpoliceappealOn 4th May, less than 100 days after that interview was broadcast, Altab Ali,a 24-year-old Bengali immigrant, on his way home from a hard day’s labour making clothes in a workshop on Hanbury Street, off Brick Lane, was attacked, and stabbed to death, by three teenagers. They were two 17- year-olds and one 16-year-old. In court, they acknowledged they did it because he was “a Paki”. His assailants were not born racists – and one of them was himself of mixed-race heritage – but they had their minds poisoned by racist and anti-immigrant ideology that they imbibed from several sources, not least the National Front. May 4th 1978 was also the day of local council elections. The National Front were contesting 41 of the 50 council seats being fought over that day in the borough where Altab Ali was killed. They knew they wouldn’t get elected but it gave them a chance to spread their venomous propaganda and hatred.

This afternoon I will be taking nearly 30 young activists for social justice fromstop10_004 marginalised communities in South London, on a walk in the East End focusing especially on, immigration, anti-racism and multiculturalism. They are part of the Advocacy Academy, a brilliant and imaginative project that works with them for one year through residential retreats and fortnightly gatherings. I have taken two previous Advocacy Academy groups on this walk. When we visit Altab Ali Park, the small green space between Aldgate and Whitechapel named in his memory, I will tell them his story and show them a poster of the time that says “Who killed Altab Ali”. I will put that question to them, and I expect, perhaps with a bit of prompting they will be able to tell me who it was that killed Altab Ali – beyond the three teenagers who stood trial and served their time.

Because there were surely a number of adults who should have been in the frame too:   National Front organisers and propagandists; the police, who had been failing to deal with racial violence against the local immigrants community; the press with their repeated and sensationalist anti-immigrant headlines… and mainstream politicians like Margaret Thatcher, who was cynically seeking to  win votes for the Conservative Party that were heading the National Front’s way, not by challenging their philosophy but by  legitimising it.

Let us remember Altab Ali, Stephen Lawrence, Martin Luther King and all victims of racist murders,  but let’s not forget the parts played by Enoch Powell and Margaret Thatcher.

 

 

 

 

The Suffragettes who fought for equality within their own movement

Teresa Billington was a self-motivated rebel born in Blackburn in 1877.  She ran away from her very strict Catholic working class family. While apprenticed as a milliner, she went to night school after long days at work, to train as a teacher. She worked at a school in Crumpsall, Manchester, but was hauled up in front of the local Education Committee and faced the sack, because she had refused to teach religious instruction. One of her responses to her own strict religious upbringing was to become an agnostic. One outspoken member of the Education Committee was really impressed by Teresa’s spirit and arranged for her to be transferred to a Jewish school where she would not herself be obliged to teach religion. That Committee member was Emmeline Pankhurst. They became firm friends, and before long Teresa had joined Emmeline in two political bodies that she had become involved in consecutively – the Independent Labour Party (ILP) and the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), later known, of course, as the suffragettes.

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Annie Kenney (left) and Christabel Pankhurst

Emmeline Pankhurst founded the suffragettes with close family and political friends in Manchester, in 1903, as a new kind of suffrage movement in Britain,  unafraid to take on the authorities with militant methods of civil disobedience. When Emmeline wanted to spread the organisation beyond Manchester and make it national, she sent Teresa Billington down to London with another fiery working class activist, Annie Kenney. A bit later Teresa was chosen to replicate this work in Glasgow. There she met and married a local socialist, Frederick Greig. Her feminist principles were expressed in their pre-nuptial agreement which bound them to take each other’s surnames rather than replace her identity with his surname. They both became Billington-Greigs.

Her close political and personal friendship with Emmeline Pankhurst reached breaking point though, at a delegate conference of the WSPU in 1907. The movement was four years old. It had established a recognised style with its purple green and white sashes and flags, had launched its own newspaper – Votes for Women  –  later renamed The Suffragette, and forced its way into the headlines of the mainstream press. It was growing rapidly, but still had no rules governing how it ran its own affairs. Teresa was pleased to have been asked by Emmeline to draw up a constitution for the WSPU that would be discussed and voted on at this delegate conference. What followed on the day profoundly shocked her. In her own words:

“The meeting where this was to be discussed was dramatically and unexpectedly turned from its intended purpose by Mrs [Emmeline] Pankhurst who …announced that there was not to be a constitution or any voting membership, but that she… had assumed dictatorship and would direct-govern … through her selected colleagues or subordinates”.

Emmeline Pankhurst then physically tore up the draft document, theatrically trampled it underfoot, announcing that the WSPU:

“was not a society but a volunteer army enrolled by her and her officers for one purpose only and that no interference from the ranks could be contemplated.”

In notes held at the Women’s Library collection at LSE, Billington-Grieg describes

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Teresa Billington-Greig

“stunned surprise and confusion… the meeting broke up in disorder”, with delegates wondering how they could “claim the right to vote as citizens of the country and agree to be voteless in the management of our own society”.

Seventy of the 350 delegates walked out of the meeting and many of them became founder members of a splinter group of suffragettes called the Women’s Freedom League (WFL). In sharp contrast with the WSPU this splinter group democratically elected its officers at an annual conference and made policy decisions by majority vote. It built its own independent suffragette campaigns for example, around Tax Resistance, and published its own newspaper, The Vote. The WFL had charismatic leading figures too, its most prominent one being a vegetarian, anti-vivisectionist socialist-feminist called Charlotte Despard, who lived in Battersea, but Despard and her colleagues were democratically elected to their positions on a regular basis.

The WSPU, dominated by Emmeline Pankhurst and the eldest of her three daughters, Christabel, is credited by history with conducting the most militant suffragette campaigns – which involved many courageous confrontations with the police, window smashing and arson attacks. But militancy should not be confused with political radicalism. Rather than being collective actions by what had originally been a movement rooted much more among working class women, many militant actions were carried out by well-to-do individuals, who could risk imprisonment knowing there would still be many nannies to look after their children  and an income still coming into their households. Christabel Pankhurst consciously pushed working class suffragettes to the margins, by insisting that actions be taken by “picked women”. Christabel wrote:

“No militant could go to prison merely for her own sake…. It is for the sake of other people more helpless and more unhappy than themselves that the militant women are prepared to pay a heavy price”.

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Pankhursts: Emmeline, Christabel, Sylvia

The WFL, however, remained a cross-class movement committed to collective action. Its critique of the WSPU was not just about the democratic deficit in its own internal workings; it was also a critique of the limited framework of their political demands. Emmeline Pankhurst popularised the slogan “Votes for Women” but the full sentence read “… on the same basis as men” and this was at a time when barely 60% of men had the vote, on a property basis that privileged the most wealthy. The WFL saw this “on the same basis” demand as a bare minimum and increasingly spoke of “universal suffrage”. Teresa Billington-Greig argued that:

“The vote cannot secure of itself any single woman’s emancipation. It is a tool; and the kind of work that can be done with it depends first upon the nature of the tool, and second, upon the capacity of the person who uses it. Large areas in which emancipation is needed lie entirely outside the scope of the vote… a slave woman with a vote will still be essentially a slave.”

The WFL articulated  a wider feminist agenda:  “equal rights, equal opportunities; equal reward for our work; equal justice”. And these principles were also at the heart of the work of another democratically organised section of the WSPU that was forced out of the movement in early 1914 – its East London Federation. East End suffragettes were typically factory workers, laundry workers, cleaners, barmaids and shopworkers. They had a handful of middle-class members, though one who was very influential was Emmeline Pankhurst’s middle daughter, Sylvia, who settled in the East End in 1912. The East London Federation of Suffragettes (ELFS) developed their own newspaper – Woman’s Dreadnought – after being expelled from the movement, and like the WFL, they maintained close connections between suffragette vote-oriented struggles and women’s industrial struggles for better pay and equal opportunities.

The clearest example of the cleavages within the movement came as Britain went to Warwomens-tax-resistance-league-banner in 1914. The WSPU dramatically scaled down its operation to demonstrate that it was patriotically behind the war effort, and the Government responded by releasing suffragette prisoners. The WSPU even changed the name of its newspaper from The Suffragette to Britannia in wartime. In contrast, the WFL and the ELFS, (both groups led by opponents of the war) stepped up their activities, focusing especially on trying to enforce a cap on rocketing food prices, and supporting women’s employment struggles. Many factories closed down in the early period of the war. Later in the war women were recruited to fill posts that had generally been reserved for men, but were given just a third to a half of the wages. Both the ELFS and the WFL  campaigned and marched to Westminster for equal pay and equal opportunities.

The suffragette struggle as a whole was undoubtedly a very successful rebel movement, but it was the success of an incredibly determined but divided movement.

In all the coverage I have seen in the build up to 6th February, the 100th anniversary of Royal Assent for the Representation of the People Act (which overnight granted the vote to more than 8 million women),  Emmeline Pankhurst has featured very prominently. The Act gave the vote to all men who had reached the age of 21, save those incarcerated in prisons and mental health institutions, and to married women over 30 who met a very minimal property qualifications, as well as university graduates. One militant suffragette, Lilian Lenton who had taken part in widow-smashing and arson activities said, “Personally, I didn’t vote for a long time, because I hadn’t either a husband or furniture, although I was over 30.”

In Victoria Gardens, next to Parliament, there is a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst which was unveiled in 1930 in a ceremony where, unbelievably, the Metropolitan Police’s marching band had enthusiastically played Ethel Smyth’s “March of the Women”. Emmeline had died in 1928, just weeks before the further Act that would enfranchise all women and bring full political equality with men. Had she lived until 1929, she would  herself have stood for Parliament. She had been adopted as the candidate in an East End constituency by the Conservative Party!

f5af8edabec5a7aebe246f01f4df5462In the 1950s, the statue was moved closer to the main road, and side sections were added which celebrated, by then, Dame Christabel Pankhurst, and also acknowledged the women who went to prison in the suffragette cause, with a representation of the brooch/medal that the movement gave to prisoners on the morning they were released. It doesn’t credit the artist who designed that medal though. It was Sylvia Pankhurst. And there is no mention either of the Women’s Freedom League on the statue.

In the wake of Parliaments decision on 6th February 1918, the WSPU declared its job done and began to formally close down. It knew that full political equality was just a matter of time. It took another 10 years. But the ELFS, with Sylvia Pankhurst still playing a pivotal role, continued their work into the 1920s. By then they had transmuted into the Workers Suffragette Federation, then the Workers Socialist Federation. The WFL, though, outlived them all, not closing down until 1961, having fought and won many battles on its wider women’s equality agenda. The cudgels would soon be taken up by the new generation of “second-wave feminists”.

Teresa Billington was still alive in 1961 (she died in 1964), and spoke at the winding down ceremony of the Women’s Freedom League. She said that the campaign for votes for women was “only the first stage of political emancipation”. She praised the WFL for the way it had conducted itself internally as well as externally, “rejecting dictatorship as a false means to a good end“. She added, “I feel its death as a tragedy. It was born of the spirit of democracy and rebellion.” That rebellion, in London had included a rebellion within the suffragette movement. It is time that all of those rebels got the recognition they deserve too.

 

Find out more about the movements and personalities involved on my guided walk “Fighters for Equality: Suffragettes, anti-racists and enemies of Empire” on Sunday 4th March. Details and booking: http://www.eastendwalks.com

 

 

Falling out among history’s thieves and gatekeepers

An interesting little spat has developed between two very right-wing governments over who gets to say what in narratives about the Holocaust.
Poland’s ruling Law and (in)Justice Party are getting hot under the collar about negative references to the behaviour of Poland and its (non-Jewish) population during the Nazi genocide, and are trying to pass a law criminalising references to “Polish Death Camps”.
They have a point on that – the camps were set up on Polish soil by Nazi occupying forces. Only, they want to go further and silence people who claim that any Poles collaborated with the Nazi forces, which undoubtedly a number did.
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Two of the most powerful books I’ve read by left-wing Jewish resistance workers and survivors, The Stars Bear Witness by Bernard Goldstein and On Both Sides of the Wall by Vladka Meed, are replete with tales of courageous solidarity from non-Jewish Poles at great personal risk, but also many tales of betrayal.
Then there is the well-known case of Jedwabne, Poland, in 1941 where hundreds of Jews were rounded up by their non-Jewish neighbours, forced into a barn and then the barn was set on fire. Although previous generations of Polish politicians have acknowledged and apologised for this massacre, the newly ascendant right-wingers are trying to muddy the historical waters by asserting either that it was the Nazis who did it, or who encouraged the local people to do this, or they make an even worse excuse saying that this was some kind of local revenge for the Jews being too friendly to communists.
When you consider the scale of the slaughter of Poland’s Jews – 90% of a population of 3.3 million, spread over many areas, it is inconceivable that a total this high could have been reached without the active cooperation of local elements or, at best, the passive acceptance and lack of serious resistance from the non-Jewish Polish population in many places.
The Law and Justice Party’s motives are not clean, but they are not alone. Similar attempts to revise the accepted histories – and even to rehabilitate Nazi collaborators – continue apace in Lithuania and Ukraine, where there was clearly considerable cooperation with the Nazis against the Jews.
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Irena Sendlerowa

What Poland can rightly claim is that, across the whole territory of western, central and eastern Europe, though there were remarkable efforts to help Jews in Denmark, it was only in Holland and Poland that specific organisations among non-Jews were set up to assist the Jews in their time of greatest need. In Poland it was ZEGOTA, in which Irena Sendlerowa was very active.
But the moves by Law and justice in Poland have come under fire from another very right-wing  government; one that practices racism, discrimination, exclusion, and dehumanisation on a daily basis.  This is Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in Israel, which oppresses Palestinians, especially in the Occupied Territories, but also inside the Green Line, at the same time as it falsely presents itself as the legitimate guardian and gatekeeper of Holocaust memory.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyah

Netanyahu, of course, comes from the Jabotinskyite Zionist political tradition that was very influenced by, and friendly to, the concept of fascism in the 1930s. It had members seeking to make deals with the Nazis on the basis of common ultra-nationalist and anti-British sentiment in the 1940s.  Netanyahu would happily damn almost all Poles today as antisemites (one of his late associates – Itzhak Shamir – did just that, claiming that Poles imbibe antisemitism with their mothers’ milk), although Netanyahu would surely make exceptions for  very right wing Poles who praise Israel.

One of his big fans here, Stephen Pollard, editor of the increasingly dreadful Jewish Chronicle, got himself in hot water a few years back with his fulsome praise of the Law and Justice politician, Michal Kaminski. Kaminski had condemned the Polish president at the time for apologising over Jedwabne, saying there was nothing to apologise for – at least not until Jews apologised for the role  Jewish partisans and Jewish communists had played in this period alongside the Red Army. Kaminski had earlier been involved with Fringe far-right groups beyond Law and Justive, but was pro-Israel.

Israel’s claim to being the legitimate spokespersons on the Holocaust predates

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Eichmann on trial, 1961

Netanyahu and the Israeli-right wing’s hold on power. The Israeli Labour Party which held power from 1948-1977 assumed this role and offered their own distorted narrative about the Holocaust.  in the 1950s Israeli educators, supported by their government, propagated the lie that during the Holocaust, Jews had ‘gone like lambs to the slaughter’ – a slap in the face to the dead as well as survivors who had performed incredible acts of resistance. The story of resistance did come out, partly at the Eichmann trial of 1961 but a new lie was built – that it was the Zionists alone who were responsible for resistance and they did so because they could see a future; they had a dream of building a Jewish future in Palestine.

An anti-Zionist, Polish Jewish socialist, Marek Edelman, one of the surviving commanders of the Uprising in Warsaw, Poland’s largest ghetto, had written The Ghetto Fights –  the most searing, heart-wrenching description of the three-week long resistance there in the most unequal of battles – in Polish, in 1945. It was translated and then published in Yiddish and English in 1946. The Israeli state did not even invite Edelman to give evidence in Israel to the Eichmann trial. He was treated as persona non-grata because he  remained true to his anti-Zionist principles.

It is disgraceful that the proceedings of the Eichmann trial were translated into dozens of languages, but not Yiddish – the main language of the victims of Eichmann and his fellow Nazis and their local helpers. Shamefully, The Ghetto Fights remained untranslated into Hebrew for 56 years, finally getting published in Hebrew in 2001, even though Edelman had made rights available to all.

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Edelman’s book gave the lie to the Zionist narratives and claims about ghetto resistance both in terms of who was involved (anti-Zionist and non-Zionist Bundists and Communists as well as socialist Zionists) and what they believed they were fighting for. In an  interview recorded in a later book, Edelman said  “We fought for dignity and freedom. Not for a territory, nor for a national identity.”

Netanyahu’s government has also been doing pretty much what it accuses the Polish government of doing, with regard to Palestinian perspectives on history. It has written its own laws regarding “acceptable” historical memory. Since 2011  Israeli legislation has made mourning the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe) publicly difficult for Palestinians and others in Israel. It authorises Israel’s Finance Minister to revoke funding from institutions that mark the country’s Independence Day as a day of mourning. Everything is done to make organisations fearful of doing so. I guess, with Netanyahu we should not be especially surprised at his hypocrisy.

While these two very obnoxious right-wing governments argue head to head, perhaps, in the 75th anniversary year of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, grass-roots activists should plan for how we can honour the memories of those who stood up to hatred, fascism and authoritarianism. How we can remember those who wanted to build, instead, a world of social justice, that respected freedom and equal rights for all. How we can link them to struggles for freedom in other places at other times, and how we can use use their specific struggle as an inspiration for our battles today.

Which side are you on?

Here is an interesting list of people:
Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of the Austrian Far Right Freedom Party, now entering government; Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch far right Party for Freedom. He is perhaps best known for his openly Islamophobic comments; Nicolas Bay, General Secretary of France’s Front National since 2014 and leader of its youth wing from 1992 when it was led by the more openly antisemitic and fascist Jean Marie Le Pen; Tommy Robinson, who in recent years has led a number of far right groups in Britain, notably the English Defence League, famed for its provocative and threatening marches to push its Islamophobic and ultra-nationalist agendas.  Before forming the EDL, Robinson was a member of the British National Party. Narendra Modi, Indian Prime Minister for the very right wing BJP and longstanding member of its parent organisation the RSS; Jair Bolsonaro, described as “the Donald Trump of Brazil”, and that is not meant as a compliment. Bolsonaro is well-known for his pro-dictatorship statements.

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Tommy Robinson

Not the kind of group I feel inclined to invite to a tea party. They all definitely have something in common. But before you say, “they all subscribe to modern-day far right political philosophies, and some of them, at least, have more than a little liking for some older far-right philosophies”, I will interrupt you and say, no, that’s far too obvious. I’ll throw in one more, that might help: Csanad Szegedi. 

Szegedi was one of the founders of the Hungarian Guard, an extreme nationalist group whose members wear black uniforms and see themselves as worthy descendants of the “Arrow Cross”, a Hungarian fascist party, which happily collaborated with the Nazis during the Second World War. The Hungarian Guard have operated as a para-military auxiliary to the far right Jobbik party, which has targeted its hatred and violence mainly towards Roma Gypsies,  Jews and refugees.

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Hungarian Guard on the streets

But Szegedi found out something acutely embarrassing a couple of years ago: not only that his grandparents on his mother’s side were actually Jewish, but his grandmother had been incarcerated in Auschwitz. He began learning about Judaism, observing Shobbos (the Sabbath), keeping kosher, and going to synagogue. Oh, and he quit all his office posts in Jobbik, though he said that was nothing to do with discovering his Jewish roots, but because of some corruption scandal in the party. Whatever. Later he announced his intention to settle in Israel.

And Israel, currently led by its most far-right government, is the connection. The Israeli government, which in the tradition of Zionism, still talks of the “ingathering of the exiles” (It treats Jews who are happily living in the diaspora as “exiles”) published its own list yesterday, of those it does not want to “gather” in its homeland. It was essentially a list of organisations that have been prominent in supporting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign – a campaign utilising peaceful, grassroots activism from around the globe, among people as consumers, tourists, professionals, academics, artists and musicians, and more, to pressurise Israel to meet its human rights obligations, to end its repression in the Occupied Territories, and end discrimination.

Having casually dismissed BDS campaigners as marginal and ineffective, Israel’s government has now just paid them the biggest compliment possible. Most of the organisations listed were American, and one particularly stood out in the list: Jewish Voice for Peace – one of the fastest growing Jewish groups in America among different generations, but especially among young people. They support BDS and other non-violent actions aimed at achieving peace with justice for the Palestinians. As far as the Israeli Government is concerned they are definitely not welcome. But what about the “ingathering…”? Never mind that. From Netanyahu’s standpoint there are “good Jews” and bad Jews. The joke is that he think he is a good one.

Some British groups also made the list – the Palestine Solidarity campaign, (I think Netanyahu probably didn’t like the name), and also the  highly respected charity, War on Want, which focuses on human rights and the roots of global poverty. They have addressed Israel’s daily human rights abuses in imaginative and sustained ways. The Israeli government denies such abuses take place. There is a simple way they could prove it – allow groups in to monitor the situation. But that is why they have banned them. There is way too much to hide.

But, hold on, what about my list at the top of this blog? Keep those names in particular, and the values they stand for in mind, whenever you hear Israeli politicians discussing the list of groups Israel has excluded, because my list contains purveyors of hatred, discrimination, and division. It contains who have indulged in racism against several differnt groups including Jews. These are people who, in recent years, have not only visited Israel, but in most cases have been enthusiastically invited to come by its government. Shameful.

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Architect of apartheid Vorster, with shimon Peres, left, and Yitzhak Rabin , right

Back in 1976, when the Prime Minister of apartheid South Africa was invited to Israel by its “labour” government, there was uproar both in Israel and the diaspora. These days, hardly a murmur in the mainstream. Now that Israel’s current excuse  for a government has become more explicit about who can come through the door and walk on a red carpet,  and who gets turned away, the spotlight ought to to be shone brightly on its rogues gallery of welcomed guests  I look forward to the comments about them by the Board of Deputies, Labour Friends of Israel, the Jewish Labour Movement, the Jewish Chronicle, the Jewish News. I won’t hold my breath though.