As a student 20 years ago at university we had a small, but vocal radical Islamist minority, separate from the Islamic Society and organised behind name of Hizb-ut Tahrir, a group which rallied at lunchtime outside the Students Union, waving flags, chanting slogans such as as “Death to Zionists and Gays”, while the Union generously paid for their participation in advancing student life!
As an activist, I spent time in the Union of Jewish Students office, researching and compiling a dossier about radical Islamist groups which we felt to be a danger to campus life and the community in general. The report was presented the then Home Secretary, Michael Howard, calling for the outlawing of Hizbu-ut and a similar splinter group, Al-Muhajiroun. This was dismissed. In 1997, NUS passed a motion banning these groups from campus and the groups were eventually made illegal in 2005 after the 7/7 bombings in London. The groups may be gone, but the ideology hasn’t.
Also as a student I was elected to the NUS NEC where along with others, I co-convened the NUS anti-racism campaign. As a sabbatical officer in 1998, I worked with the UJS to research hard left groups and try and understand their thinking, their ideologies and their strategies.
I found the hard-left, as a whole, slightly charming on the surface, but deeper down quite threatening. It was a collection of cranks, social misfits and crusty relics living in a parallel universe, where conspiracy theories were reinforced by collective groupthink. Splinter groups were established on the basis of what some people thought Trotsky may have believed in the 1920s, verses those who believed Trotsky’s writings of the 1930s. If you challenged or dissented with the absolute certainty of the leadership you were an enemy and faced purging.
What was fascinating was a near swivel-eyed obsession with Israel and Palestine. Partly due to some of the dominant founders of the groups, such as Tony Cliff, (born Yigael Gluckstein) who was the founder and leader of the Socialist Workers Party, and Michael Kidron, Cliff’s brother in law, who were both active Zionists before rejecting that ideology. The Zionist occupation of Palestine was debated at every opportunity. Most argued that a Jewish State should not be allowed to exist at all, while others saw it as necessary response to Nazism and a limited state alongside a Palestine.
One of the main differences between the hard-left groups was how to achieve the revolution.
For some it was violent overthrow of the Government and the institutions of power, while others took the entryist approach through infiltration. Their endless and facile debates on class struggle and global realignment were totally pointless as their strength to achieve these goals was limited.
I have theories why the hard-left grew again in the UK, which include a confluence of tuition fees, the Iraq war, perceived inequality and of course the financial crisis; after every major global shock, there is a delayed social response. Across the globe there is the polarising of politics and the UK is no exception, but there were still so few Trots/Marxists/Leninists/Maoists to really forge that revolution, despite controlling several Trade Unions via the entryist route.
Dr Richard Stone OBE
Back in London in 2001, I worked at The Stone Ashdown Trust for Dr Richard Stone, a true gentleman with great morals and a brave social justice campaigner against racism. He was central to the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry coining the concept of institutional racism and an advisor to London Mayor Ken Livingstone (For those that do not recall, Ken ran as an Independent to the office of Mayor against the Labour candidate). On occasion I would both accompany or replace Richard at meetings and committees with the likes of Ken and Diane Abbot. There is nobody in the UK who has done more to advance Jewish-Muslim relations than Richard Stone, and I am proud to have been part of his work.
I sat as co-chair of Alif-Aleph a Jewish Muslim dialogue group which we set up, holding dozens of events and meeting many people from the various Muslim communities. I served on the Executive of the Jewish Labour Movement and the Zionist Federation of the UK.
I think I hold pretty good credentials as an anti-racist, a Zionist and as a member of the Labour Party, and never found my views to be in conflict.
The Iraq War and Gaza conflicts were the catalyst to bring together the anti-west hard left, and the Muslim communities of the UK, finding common enemy in Israel, the establishment forces of Blair and Brown’s Labour Party and the Conservative Party that supported Israeli actions against Hamas. Although there is very little that unites these two disparate groups, in fact that with any normal scrutiny the two are ideologically poles apart, the issue of Israel/Palestine is only focal point – and such is the hatred of Israel and Zionism it blinds the hard left to other aspects of radical Islamism.
It is not unique for two diametrically opposed groups to align for electoral or political interest. In coalition Governments across the world, ideologically opposed minority parties work together, such as in Israel, where secular and religious parties sit around the same cabinet. On a grander level, let us not forget that Communist Stalin and Fascist Hitler had a pact in the 1930s prior to the war.
Having had many conversations with British Muslims about Israel, I can confidently state that there are not many that one would define as pro-Zionist. I understand this. There are many Zionists that view the Arab world as their enemy. Some are ambivalent to the cause, but most Muslims believe the conditions and situation of the Palestinians is the fault of the Zionists, while many Zionists also accept that the Palestinians’ plight is terrible, but is due to a failure of their own leadership and political expedience of other Arab countries to isolate Israel diplomatically.
Irrespective, finding a common enemy in Zionists, the hard left turned a blind eye to the overt racism of radical Islamism and even some of the more moderate voices (which by traditional definitions were outside the established conventions of acceptability) in order to form electoral partnerships. Initially seen in London by the likes of Respect led by George Galloway, Ken Livingstone in London and Lutfur Rahman in Tower Hamlets, but also in many of the Muslim dominated cities in the north. With evident electoral successes, the convergence between the Muslim communities and the hard left is growing.
As I have written previously, in my view Ed Miliband is the worst leader in Labour’s history. By appointing known members of Livingstone’s team to key Labour positions and changing the party rules to actively enable entryism, he reconstituted the Labour Party as a vehicle for the left, and then ran away. The clique of Marxists took their chance. It is a strategic masterclass and the opportunity that many on the hard left had been waiting for and hoping to engineer their whole careers.
One should also note that many institutions throughout the left, from Trades Unions to the Labour Party are now dominated by the small number of people that share this radical Marxist ideology both in membership and in leadership.
I need not dwell on the fact that much of the new membership of the party was once clearly anti-Labour, however it saw fit to elect Jeremy Corbyn as Leader. If Ken Livingstone had been an MP in 2015 it is undoubted that he would now be the Leader of the Labour Party, as would Fidel Castro, Yassir Arafat or Gamal Nasser. Labour’s most successful leaders, Attlee, Wilson and Blair would not get a hearing.
There are several statements that must be addressed in the context of last week’s events:
Zionism is the the right of self-determination for the Jewish people and a belief in the right of existence of the State of Israel.
Much of the hard left, for reasons outlined above do not accept this, so while as individuals they do not believe themselves to be anti-Semites, they singularly deny the Jewish people rights that other nations are afforded.
The critique of “criticising the policies Israeli Government” is a fallacy; the hard left denies Israel’s right to exist.
Many of the new members to the Labour Party are anti-Zionist, some are clear anti-Semites.
While most British Muslims detest and fundamentally object to the platform as advocated by radical Islamists, there is still significant support and tolerance of these radical groups. Sometimes the anti-Semitic messages filter through.
The realpolitick of embracing many previously anti-Labour members into the Party, many with values that are in conflict with the traditional Party members, means that there is an ideological clash that cannot be ignored.
If Corbyn’s Labour Party cannot accept the statements above, they must, or they do not understand the problem.
Calls for “Party Unity” led by Corbyn, Abbot and the Trade Union entryists is as absurd and illegitimate as saying Hitler, the man behind the tens of millions of deaths, creating a pan-national infrastructure to gas and burn the largest number of people in the most efficient way possible, was a believer in Jewish self-determination in Israel, and justifying that position as the view of the Israeli Prime Minister. Who would be so pernicious and wildly illogical?
Reading blogs and tweets I am left in despair. The same moronic and malevolent conspiracy theories that were the preserve of the extremists on campus now appear to be mainstream discourse. The extremists have become the establishment.
I have no idea if members of the party are seeking to replace Jeremy Corbyn, but they should want to if they want the Labour Party of the last 100 years to survive as it was. However as it stands, there cannot be a coup within the Labour Party- that time has passed.
The Party is over. It is morally bankrupt, and if not for the support of the Trade Unions, would be financially bankrupt.
Today’s Labour Party is past the point of relevance, the brand alone is all that keeps it together. With the alliance of the hard left and the new extremist party membership talking to itself, all moderates can hope for is that it will become as irrelevant and as divided as the SWP and Marxists were a generation earlier. If it continues, the effect will be an expansion of extremism, conspiracy theories and anti-semitism as we have seen since Corbyn’s election last year.
No sensible person can want Labour to win power at the moment, yet moderates are powerless to make change. If anyone believes that the Labour Party is the best way to affect positive change in society, they are misguided.
It is time for anyone who cares about the future of Britain to let the Labour Party die – and hope that it does so, quickly.