Letter: The great anti-Semitism smear campaign

I want to start by thanking the Socialist Party for such a thorough response to my recent book, Labour, the Anti-Semitism Crisis, and the Destroying of an MP, reviewed in the December-January 2021/22 edition of Socialism Today, No.254. As I noted in the book itself, one of the fundamental problems has been the censoring of opinions different from the mainstream narrative. Repeatedly the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and its outriders were allowed to air their dishonest arguments on a friendly media while those of us who disagreed were left to stew on the social media side-lines. Indeed it was my frustration with this state of affairs that led to me (a teacher) to writing the book in the first place.

However, somewhat to my surprise, the actual writing of the book proved, in many ways, to be the easiest part. Finding a publisher willing to take on such a vexed matter was challenging to say the least, with most, even supposedly ‘left wing’ companies such as Verso, rejecting my book on political rather than literary grounds.

Even after publication, finding bookstores to stock my book has proved difficult. I emailed the so-called ‘Alliance of Radical Booksellers’ to see if they might be able to find space on their shelves for a well-reviewed recent work about a front-page issue, only to be met by silence. My local ‘radical’ bookstore, Five Leaves, in Nottingham, also gave me short thrift, eventually only offering to order in a copy if a customer directly asked for one (not the most efficient way to market a book as they well know). My attempts also to gain reviews in more mainstream outlets have come to no avail. So it is with gratitude that I have turned to the likes of Socialism Today to see my book covered at all.  

I should note at the outset that I am gladdened that Judy agrees with me on my main argument; namely, that the labelling of figures such as the former Labour MP for Derby North, Chris Williamson, as ‘anti-Semitic’, was a ‘deliberate smearing’ for political ends. Once that is agreed upon, other, perhaps less crucial, matters can be discussed.

One of the points Judy raises, a failure to make a “class differentiation” regarding the word Israel, is, as she herself observes, a form of authorial shorthand. That said, Judy is right, of course, to draw attention to the fact that, by using such a shorthand, one can wrongly give the impression that when I speak pejoratively about an ‘Israel’, these same sentiments extend to an Israeli working class. Perhaps, on reflection, this would have been a point worth clarifying by myself in the preface.

Judy’s most striking argument is my failure to “explicitly” draw out “the class interests that underlay the witch-hunt” and, specifically, that I didn’t identify that the Labour right was “representing capitalist interests”. Of course, whilst my book might not do this as ‘explicitly’ as Judy liked, I would expect that such an analysis would be apparent to any reader as it is this assumption that underlies the whole book. For example, on the very first page of the foreword, the former socialist Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) Tommy Sheridan points out that “the weaponisation of anti-Semitism against Corbyn, Livingstone, Williamson and others is about defending the status quo, the rich and powerful, the heinously unfair distribution of wealth and power in society”. Chris Williamson, also, in his afterword, writes how my book “provides an invaluable insight into the strategies that will be deployed to destroy any serious future attempt to establish an anti-imperialist socialist alternative to the current political consensus”.  

One of Judy’s more specific criticisms was my ambiguousness, as she saw it, about Hamas and Hezbollah. In the context of what I was writing, namely that Corbyn’s language (‘friends’) was being used deceitfully to attack him, I think what Judy wanted here would have been a distraction. My book was not one primarily concerning the Middle East, and for me to try to assess Hamas and Hezbollah briefly would, in my view, either risk not doing this complex subject justice or, if dealt with at greater length, risk going off on a tangent and losing the main focus of the book. However, I would concur with what I think is Judy’s main point. That the left should be very wary of seeing our enemy’s enemy as our friends and, consequently, reach out to ‘right-wing Islamist parties’ as allies. This is a mistake – we should always remember who we are and who our interests lie with. The working class.

Her point on the ‘collective trauma’ of the Jewish people is a good one and, I think, many would agree. One must be careful of not being overly dogmatic when discussing such a vexed issue as the ‘present consciousness’ of a group. However, she is right to identify my main aim in doing so – that too easily, I believe, the past has been given as a reason for present atrocities.

Interestingly, Judy is right that I do not detail what a fightback would have constituted, but I think this is for a straightforward reason. I believe that throughout this whole ‘crisis’, a very simple step would have been for the left to call out blatant lies as lies. It is my opinion that, if the left leadership in the PLP had done this consistently, the whole issue would have never gained momentum. In short, that no organised ‘fightback’ would have been needed as it would have been a non-issue.

Finally, Judy is right to comment that Chris Williamson, far from being destroyed, is very much alive and is still very much involved in the left. I had many hours of argument over my grammatically challenged use of ‘destroying’ – my intent in this, of course, was to point out that you can kick a good man, but you can’t keep him down.

To conclude, I would like to say that it is very refreshing to come across such a clear, class-based Marxist analysis. The ‘left’ speaks little enough of class these days, often preferring other ‘identity’ issues. This, I believe, is a major strategical mistake and a factor in our decades’ long retreat. Marx spoke of “workers of the world unite”. It has been the left’s retreat from this simple position, preferring instead ever more fragmented, dividing and niche issues, that has damaged us. We should remember who we are. Unity is strength, and our unity, as always, is the working class in their millions.

Lee Garratt

Labour, the Anti-Semitism Crisis, and the Destroying of an MP, by Lee Garratt. Published by Thinkwell Books, 2021, £11-99.