Preston: A Model for the Post-Capitalist Era

Preston, 2013. This Lancashire town, ravaged by the Financial Crisis, faced a bleak future. In the bottom 20% of the UK Deprivation Index, the collapse of a planned £700mn shopping complex perpetuated Preston’s woes. An impending 40% slashing of its central government budget was about to pull it further into oblivion.  Few, if any spectators would have chosen this beleaguered town as the scene of an economic revival. Yet now, half a decade on, Preston is being hailed as a model for the future generation. A beacon for the post-capitalist world, transforming its economy through a wave of cooperative ventures and localism that created wealth and prosperity in its wake. 

 

Preston’s mission is grounded in creating wealth for the local community and not the corporate elite. The results prove an unambiguous triumph. The Co-operatives, which are democratically run by workers, stop leakage and increase the earnings of local workers. Unemployment is now below the national average at 4.1%, contributing to Preston being the second largest improver on the Deprivation Index from 2010-15. Preston is a shadow of its former self, no longer epitomising the deindustrialised North that suffered at the hands of austerity. Winning the Best City to Live and Work in North-East England in 2016 served to cement Preston’s legacy from a momentous economic turnaround, creating 1600 jobs since 2013.

 

Nobody would have predicted it. And given the troubled circumstances in 2013, we were right not to. Thus it was a transformation of the entire economic structure, creating a new path on which the town would walk, that enabled recovery at such speed and tenacity to prove all doubters incorrect. John McDonnell has praised it as a prototype for Labour’s economic policy, incorporating it into the 2017 manifesto pledge to double the size of the cooperative sector. This transformation was grounded in two fundamental principles; localism and cooperativism.

 

Inspired by similar projects in Cleveland, USA, and the Basque Country, Councillor Matthew Brown – the architect of the Preston Model – set upon a mission of “a long term collaborative to community wealth building”. The 6 local institutions that signed up to be bastions of this plan for economic revival – including the constabulary, education institutions and Lancashire’s largest social housing organisation – epitomise the fundamental problem at the core of Preston’s failure to create wealth for its people. Of the £750mn they spent annually, only 39% was spent in the Lancashire region. £458mn was leaking out of the local economy, exacerbating Preston’s economic woes by limiting the demand for its suppliers. Brown redesigned the procurement process to prioritise local suppliers, and has since witnessed the explosion of local supply networks that have followed. A £600,000 printing contract by the Constabulary was kept in Preston, in addition to the division of a £1.6mn Council food contract across farmers in the Lancashire heartlands.

 

Yet Preston’s ambition continued further. In a challenge to the prevailing capitalist order grounded in a hierarchical corporate structure to maximise profits, the Preston Model had its foundations laid in cooperatives. This model of giving workers and consumers a stake in determining the corporate future has proven not only successful for Preston, but also across the globe. By harnessing the power of those most involved in all stages of production, twice as many cooperatives survive the first 5 years of business than other firms. Cooperatives can vary across countries, from shares that appreciate in value in the Pacific Northwest plywood industry to the Italian cooperatives, where shares are paid back at the nominal value and capital is collectively owned by the members. And yet still the evidence proves the uniting feature amongst them all – superior productivity. Studies have proven it a more efficient mode of economic production. Firms that convert to cooperatives would be able to produce more given their current technology than they can at present, increasing their productive capacity. Given the current position of the UK as the productivity laggard of the Western World, Preston’s model could be the answer.

 

The Preston cooperative network has extended its reach across all sectors in the local economy. Most recent is the Guild Union, a cooperative credit facility that provides cheap loans to local businesses to increase investment. Credit rationing after 2008 created a significant struggle for riskier small businesses to access the funding they needed to grow and expand, with this initiative contributing to the £200mn return to Preston’s economy that the model has thus far achieved.

 

There is no wonder why the cooperative movement is extending its reach across the globe. New York City, the birthplace and epitome of US corporate capitalism, has begun a $2.1mn initiative to expand to cooperative network. A city symbolised by the capitalist profit of Wall Street has begun an economic experiment in the footsteps of its Northwestern UK counterpart – a momentous shift in economic ideology. Moreover, the oncoming wave of retiring Baby Boomer small business owners creates fresh opportunities for cooperative conversion, providing a golden opportunity to fundamentally alter the economic structure.

 

Yet despite the undoubted success that Preston has enjoyed, there is reason to be cautious of saluting this as a beacon for the post-capitalist world. The discipline of economics was founded upon the unwavering assumption of maximising profits in exchange, wherever in the world your supplier may be. Promoting localism may undermine this core principle by acting as an obstacle to getting the goods at the lowest price, as such preventing the perfection of the free market from functioning.

 

However, far from being a contradiction of microeconomics, the Preston Model may have unearthed its hidden secret. The assumption of profit maximisation from the times of Adam Smith has appeared to collapse under the community spirit harnessed in Preston, where rationality has come to define maximising welfare and happiness instead. The ‘social capital’ galvanised from the cooperative model capitalises on the positive relationships between individual workers to drive productivity, as opposed to the less humane capitalist corporate hierarchy. After 2 centuries of industrial and globalised capitalism, cooperativism could reformulate the economic order away from individualistic profit and towards community equality. Behavioural economics has redefined what it means to be rational.

 

The Preston Model must be praised in the UK as national treasure. Not only for its mark of human ingenuity, seeing a light as the town slid further into recession, but also in its desire to challenge conventional economic wisdom to enable community spirit to triumph. Creating a local economy based on morals, social capital and welfare maximisation rather than extraction and profits could reunite our divided island, where the Brexit vote epitomised the enormity of the wealth disparities in Britain. Preston is living proof that cooperatives are a significant force with which to challenge the economic order. And one day, it may be hailed as the town where the post-capitalist era was born.

2018 Local Elections – What to look out for

Local Elections are rarely seen as exciting, usually being left to the political hardcore and locals who are annoyed about dog mess and potholes. Turnout is lower, coverage slimmer and the issues a little more niche.

However, with no national elections in May 2018, the Locals will take centre stage are they are not without intrigue. The political map continues to be in a state of rapid change following the General Election last year, and anyone who can predict with certainty what will happen on Thursday 3 May is bluffing.

With Local Elections taking place every four years, it’s worth remembering the last time these seats were up for grabs in 2014 the EU Referendum was the promise made by David Cameron, who looked certain not to be Prime Minister after 2015. UKIP appeared to be on an irresistible rise and the Scottish Referendum looked like being a rather dull, inconsequential ‘No’ result. How wrong we all were.

So if you’re staying up all night on May 3, or just wondering how to cut through the parties spin the morning after, here are a few things to look out for.

Lib Dem revival in cities?
Ahead of the 2017 General Election the Lib Dems thought they might be in with a chance of capitalising on the Brexit positions of Labour and the Tories by offering a second referendum. While it didn’t work in terms of seats, there are a number of big cities who voted overwhelmingly Remain with elections on May 3. If the Lib Dems can take back ground in Leeds, Birmingham and especially Manchester and Newcastle where they have previously been strong, it may indicate a revival in fortunes.

Mayoral elections
Elections for Mayors in some London Boroughs and the Sheffield City Region are not of interest, with the only question being how big Labour will win. In Hackney and Newham, where the divisive Robin Wales is no more, vote shares of 80% could be on the cards. The interesting race of the evening is Watford where the Lib Dems will be looking to hold on in what could be a three-way marginal.

Can Tories hold on to London boroughs?
London will be the focus of the night, will all boroughs having all-out elections. Labour will be expecting to make big gains, but there are a couple of boroughs that will give an indication of the scale of change in the capital. Barnet is almost certain fall, with the Tory minority administration needing to lose just one seat to Labour to be ousted. The Tories will be most worried about some of the traditional London heartlands though. Watch out firstly for Wandsworth, where Labour will look to improve drastically on their 19 seats won in 2014. If the night is going spectacularly badly for the Tories then Westminster may be at risk, where they current have 44 of the 60 seats. Lastly Hillingdon would be a huge prize for Labour, in Boris Johnson’s back yard, but they’ll need to gain at least 12 seats from the Tories to take control.

What will happen in Kensington and Chelsea?
Perhaps one of the more interesting London Boroughs, less than a year after the Grenfell disaster and the shock election of a Labour MP in Kensington, will Labour be able to take the next step and win control of the council? Labour will need to have an outstanding night to do so; starting off with only 11 of the boroughs 50 seats, but a solid local campaign and well-liked MP in Emma Dent-Coad will increase the chances. However they do face problems with a local party Forward Together postiviely splitting the progressive vote.

What happens to the UKIP vote?
With these council seats last contested at ‘peak UKIP’ in 2014, it will be interesting to see where their vote goes following the collapse of the party since the EU Referendum. UKIP won 163 council seats in 2014, but that number has reduced with by-elections and defections, meaning they go into the night with just over 150 seats on the line. It’ll be especially interesting to watch the result in Great Yarmouth, where UKIP secures over 40% of the vote in 2014 before plunging to just 6% at the 2017 General Election. There are plenty of other councils where the dispersal of UKIP votes could decide new administrations.

Will Labour progress in their target seats?
The surprising results of 2017 mean that there are now a whole host of Labour/Tory marginal seats that will become the focus of much campaigning in the coming months and years. Top of the list is Thurrock, where Labour fell only 350 votes short of taking the Westminster seat in June. Also worth watching are the unitary authorities of Swindon, where one of the parliamentary seats now has a Tory majority of around 2,500, and Milton Keynes, where both Westminster constituencies have majorities around the 2,000 mark. While these councils only have a third of the seats up for election, Labour will be looking to ‘win’ on the day, in terms of vote share and number of seats. Trafford is another Labour target, made up of 3 Westminster seats, which include 2 Labour hold and one now considerably more marginal than before.

What will happen in the 2017 surprise seats?
The first indication of whether Labour will be able to hold on to some of their surprise gains from June 2017 or if the Tories are set to take them back next time round. Look out especially for Ipswich, a perennial battle ground where Labour currently control the council and have the MP. Derby is also interesting, following the re-election of Corbyn ally Chris Williamson in 2017 after he lost narrowly in 2015. Kirklees Council features the Westminster seat of Colne Valley which Labour took from the Tories last year and which may be in play next time round. Also look out for the result in Plymouth, where Luke Pollard won the only Tory constituency in 2017 and where Labour will look to take control of the council this time round.

Why are the “liberal snowflakes” being blamed for our woes?

Hours and hours of trawling through twitter feeds uncovers a new phenomenon, the ‘snowflake liberals’ causing all the world’s woes.  Look at any right leaning politician on Twitter, from President Trump to Jacob Rees-Mogg and you will find blame for the state of the world being laid on those with a liberal ideology. Time and time again I find myself asking a simple question: how can the left be in the political firing line when we have two of the most right-wing leaning governments in the UK and the US in recent history? Does the blame not lie with those who are responsible for the decision-making process, rather than those who democratically contest their decisions.

In 2013, under the second Obama administration the United States went into a federal government shutdown. For over two weeks approximately 800,000 federal employees were forced into taken a period of unpaid, and rather unexpected leave. This was largely due to a funding gap being created when the lower chamber of the United States Congress (the Republican dominated House of Representatives) failed to come to an appropriate resolution with the Democratic led Senate over issues including Obama care. At the time, Donald Trump was quite happy to accredit the entire blame to the very top, stating on Twitter: ‘Leadership: whatever happens you’re responsible’.

Fast forward five years and Trump found himself in a similar position. However, uncharacteristically, and going against his own sentiment he left the blame at the door of the Democrats. What might seem even more surprising than Donald Trump going back on his word, or in the 21th century equivalent, his ‘tweet’ is the magnitude of control the Republican party had, and still has. Following Trump’s shock victory in 2016 Presidential Election, for the first time since 1928 the Republicans had control of the Oval Office, the House and the Senate. It is therefore unfathomable that Trump and the Republican party cannot see the problem without looking in the mirror.

As for the UK, where to start. Perhaps with the small problem that is Brexit. Like being trapped in a confined space with a bee, the buzzing is annoying enough, but knowing you will be eventually stung makes the situation even more distressing. Following possibly one the most significant constitutional law cases, Gina Miller was labelled as a ‘remoaner’ defying the people’s will. In fact, she was in good company, with three leading Supreme Court judges being labelled ‘Enemies of the People’ by the Daily Mail. It is a dangerous situation when a citizen exercising their democratic right, challenging a government’s decision is met with death threats. Moreover, having the judiciary scapegoated across national newspapers interferes with its impartial operation and puts strain on our democracy.

Most recently, we have been met with the ever-growing crisis in Syria. Those foolhardy on the right want to see the UK join the US in proposed bombing strikes. This solution seems to carry very little tangible merit, and would result in a huge loss of life with potential to aggravate the situation even further. Following this debate on social media under the ‘Not in My Name May’ hashtag, I soon discovered the foot of the blame on those on the left once more. Recurring arguments that the lack of military action in 2013, due to the resistance of those opposition parties was the main reason why there are still problems with Syria. I find it incomprehensible that the opposition party in this country are responsible for another countries crisis. Moreover, I find it somewhat comical that these claims are being made by the right. The same right that opposed continued international cooperation within the EU, find it necessary to bring action against a country without exhausting all other options necessary under international law. This bolshiness of being an international actor as and when it suits does not work within the two-way street Brexit created. If Britain wants to return to a position of splendid isolation, it must resist the temptation to act. It is not enough to blame an opposing ideology in an attempt to thwart responsibility.

All this seems to show that the left cannot do right for doing wrong. No matter what position or situation those on the liberal side of the spectrum find themselves in, they shall always be labelled as the problem. It appears this is due to the evident right wing bias across the mainstream media. Look beyond the headlines and see for yourself.

 

The death of the Liberal Democrats could create a more dangerous centrist party

The Observer recently revealed that, for the past year, business leaders and philanthropists have been developing a new centrist political party, in an effort to help “Break the mould of Westminster”. Led by LoveFilm CEO Simon Franks, the Project One movement – though it is safe to assume this is a working title whilst the party structure is formed – aims to break ground in the coming year, with significant financial backing and rumoured links to key centrist figures, potentially including Tony Blair.

Perhaps the least surprising aspect of the story, however, has been the response from the left and commentators from that political position. Quick to denounce the proposed party as irrelevant and simply the Liberal Democrats in a new format, it is a striking consensus amongst the left that the Project One movement is, from the very offset, doomed to fail before it starts. As Matthew Cole entitled his somewhat scathing dismissal of the proposed movement, “A new centrist party for Britain? Good luck with that.”

However, such willingness, and apparently joy, to leap to conclusions that the Project One Movement will have no impact are somewhat naïve. By no means do I suggest that, instead, the Project One movement will be in Downing Street in the blink of an eye – far from it. The direction of the movement is yet to be established, but it is widely reported that the party will focus primarily on local elections and activism before moving towards national elections.  It is almost certain that, at least for the remainder of the decade, the political landscape in Britain will remain largely unchanged; as we are begrudgingly dragged by the Conservatives towards the inevitable hard Brexit very few signed up for.  The current British political climate, however, seems poised for some form of revival and revitalisation as we approach the new decade – and, if the Left is not careful, such revitalisation may just come from the often-neglected centre ground.

Opinion polls serve as the perfect example of why Centrism has been overlooked for providing this revitalisation. As of March 18th, YouGov polling put the increasingly right-wing Conservatives at 44%, with Corbyn’s Labour second at 41%. The Liberal Democrats, apparently perceived as the indicator of Centrism in Britain, polled at merely 8%. From this data alone, it is an easy conclusion to assume that centrism is losing its footing in the increasingly polarised political landscape of Britain. There are, however, several reasons why this is wrong -and why the Left should be conscious of the attempted Centrist resurgence of Project One.

Primarily, the assumed failure of Centrism in Britain is down to the polarisation of British politics. With the Conservatives increasingly leaning further to the right, and Corbyn’s consolidation of Labour making the party move closer towards its socialist roots, the previous conditions of the mainstream parties as near carbon copies of each other are gone. By no means, however, does the polarisation of the traditional parties equate to the full polarisation of the electorate. Centrist tendencies do largely remain in Britain; many who voted Labour or Conservative in the last general election were, in fact, centrists, aligning themselves with the political party they deemed most appealing.

Therefore, the apparent continuation of this national programme of radicalisation, of both Labour and the Conservatives, has led to the increasing alienation of these ‘swing centrists’ of the 2017 election. The fortification of socialism in Labour rhetoric increasingly alienates the moderate aspects of the party, in the same way that conservative incompetence and hard-line policy choices have begun to alienate moderates on the right. Similarly, it was only in recent history that a Blairite Labour party won three consecutive general elections, on a platform of centrist political ideas and liberal capitalist governance. Unless the Mandelson propaganda machine was the most effective political influencer ever to exist, it is not an inconceivable concept that the British electorate is open to the ideas of centrism.

Indeed, large proportions of the British electorate are themselves sceptical of the increasing radicalism of the traditional parties. On the right, the incompetence of many senior ministers (notably a certain Mr Boris Johnson) have led to increasing questions about the ability of the May administration to break the mould of national stagnation in Britain, brought about as a product of severe austerity. Similarly, the whirlwind rise of ‘Corbyn fever’ has gradually begun to slow down. Though the true extent of the issue with Labour remains contested. With the combination of ineffectiveness and scandal miring the traditional parties, and in turn gradually increasing the public perception of current politics as ‘out of touch’, a new and fresh political approach from the centre may lead to widespread support, from both the disillusioned moderates and the often-forgotten swing centrists.

There is, however, one key question that attributes to the oversight of the traditional parties towards British centrism – if centrism is still popular in Britain, why have the Liberal Democrats not capitalised upon it? Put simply, it is because they are incapable of doing so. In a previous article for The Peoples News, I discussed the possible ways in which the Liberal Democrats could begin their potential resurgence; breaking the old and stagnant image of the party and its unwavering Europhilia, in order to appeal to swing voters and British moderates. The Liberal Democrats have done none of these things. The party clings to the old guard under the stewardship of Vince Cable; though an exceptionally capable politician, he is a leader out of touch with the current state of British politics, and one who continues the impossible fight against the inevitability of Brexit. Perhaps the only thing that the Liberal Democrats have done to ‘revitalise’ themselves is half-heartedly try and appeal to what they believe are the political interests of the youth vote; attempting to poach votes from the unwavering Labour youth support, with half-hearted promises of legalisation of Marijuana. It is, rather sadly, evidence of the continued slow death for the party.

The decline of the Liberal Democrats, however, is precisely the reason why the left should be worried by the Project One movement. With the fall of the previously incapable centrist party comes the possibility of a new, more effective centrist opposition. Indeed, if the rumoured affiliation with Blair and other senior figures are to believed, then the party should have potentially significant understanding of how to portray political competency, attractive policy and to appeal to the greater electorate. Neither should the movement be ignored simply due to its infancy. The AfD in Germany was formed as recently as 2013 – and in 2017 has gained 12.6% of the overall vote share. The Movimento 5-Stelle in Italy, formed in 2009, now holds the largest proportion of votes in the Italian parliament. If a political movement has a well-defined strategy, an understanding of how to appeal to the electorate, and what can be described as an increasingly Liberal Democrat-shaped hole in the political landscape to capitalise upon, it is not a wild assumption that they may find significant success when thrown into an increasingly polarised and restless political landscape.

Speculation surrounding Project One movement suggests they will not look to national elections until 2022 – meaning the party should not pose any significant political threat until roughly the time at which Britain formally withdraws from the European Union. If, however, the party can establish a foothold as a rising political alternative over the next couple of years, emerging at the most uncertain time in modern Britain, then it is not an outlandish idea that the Left, if wanting to maintain the success they have found under Corbyn, should be wary of Project One. If not, Corbyn and all those within the socialist Labour party may find themselves facing a revitalised brand of centrism and political opposition; one which may appeal more to the post-Brexit political landscape of Britain as it moves into the 2020’s.

Does the Left actually have a problem with anti-Semitism?

Recently, there has been a wave of scathing publicity and demonstrations from Jewish community groups against Labour and its leader Jeremy Corbyn. This is as a result of the supposed tolerance of antisemitism within the party, and has been met with mixed reactions.

A handful of Labour MPs have joined in the criticism of Corbyn, while his supporters have challenged the allegations as a politically motivated attack on the Corbyn project and its wider policies. Despite the doubts as to the validity of the charges of antisemitism against Labour, the furore has motivated reflection within the British left, leading some to question whether or not the left does indeed have an antisemitism problem.

The announcement in late-February of the possible readmission to Labour of Ken Livingstone, suspended from the party for claiming that Adolf Hitler was a Zionist, reignited controversy surrounding Labour’s perceived tolerance of antisemitism. In order to address these allegations made by Jewish community groups, and echoed by some Labour MPs, an analysis of the complex evolution as to why the left is smeared with the accusation of promoting antisemitism is required.

The long and multifarious narrative of antisemitism within the European context is a chronicle of the social exclusion and oppression of Jewish peoples perpetrated by mainstream society. Historically, Europe’s two main Jewish communities were the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim, two unique groups, which up until the last century, were united primarily by faith and a shared experience of marginalisation.

The Sephardim of Southern Europe, who were largely barred from the guilds and trades, is remembered mainly for turning to money-lending in the absence of other opportunities. Their fundamental influence in shaping modern finance and banking was famously immortalised by Shakespeare. Shylock, the wicked money-lender whose greed, the Bard fantasised, drove him to demand a pound of flesh from insolvent debtors, characterises key elements of the historical antisemitic narrative; the Jewish people as a greedy cabal of pitiless usurers and pecuniary schemers.

The Yiddish speaking Ashkenazim who settled throughout most of Western, Northern, and Eastern Europe, also faced social and professional exclusion, becoming artisans and artists, jewellers and dealers, composers and musicians, and writers and academics. These are the Jews of The Fiddler on the Roof, who suffered pogroms and expulsions, and whose population produced some of history’s most influential philosophers and thinkers. Out of their colossal influence came the reputation of Jews as comprising a clever and clandestine league of legalistic-thinking political string-pullers, bent solely on world domination. Akin to the homogenisation of the Ashkenazim and Sephardim into an undifferentiated Jewish community over the last century, so too have the pejorative stereotypes of the two groups become combined into a unified modern blood libel; the Jews as a secret society united to achieve political and economic global domination.

The historic prohibition of Jews from mainstream professions, and the resulting intellectual tradition this prohibition raised, gave rise to the philosophical genesis of the modern secular left. Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, and Leon Trotsky, as well as the majority of other ‘giants’ of left, from Anarchism to the Frankfurt School, trace their roots back to Ashkenazi heritage. The massive overrepresentation of Jews in establishing the ideological foundations of the modern left makes the issue of contemporary anti-Semitism amongst the left seem historically irreconcilable.

However, with the rise of a zealous strain of nationalism during the turn of the 20th century, socialists (Jewish and non-Jewish alike) began adopting nationalist aspirations, leading to a period in which elements of the left and right became intertwined in the struggle for statehood.

Between the 1880s and the 1930s, socialists from around the globe increasingly began to adopt nationalism, autonomism, and separatism. One of the prominent socialist-leaning thinkers to adopt a nationalist cause was Theodore Herzl, the father of modern political Zionism. In founding the World Zionist Organisation, which, in the pursuit of a Jewish homeland, encouraged immigration to Palestine, and coordinated an international effort to secure a Jewish state, Herzl added a central element to the issue surrounding contemporary anti-Semitism: the unification of Zionism with global Jewish collaboration. When the World Zionist Organisation funded the creation of the World Jewish Congress as the official international federation of Jewish communities. Zionists have since sought to capitalise on this ambiguity to delegitimise opposition to the Israeli state, through charges of anti-Semitism.

The formation of the World Jewish Congress was founded on the twin pillars of creating ‘a worldwide Jewish representative body based on the concept of the unity of the Jewish people’, and establishing a ‘Jewish National Home in Palestine’. This explicit connection of Jewishness to Zionism forever linked the global Jewish population, willingly or unwillingly, to the campaign to create a nation-state in Palestine. The coordination between world Jewry (represented by the World Jewish Congress) and Zionism (represented by the World Zionist Organisation) has resulted in the development of two corresponding narratives. The first represents an update to traditional anti-Semitic conspiracy theories concerning an international plot to achieve global domination. The coordination of a worldwide body of Jewish representatives with another seeking a nation-state added a tangible element to the narrative that Jews were actively trying to take over the world. The second narrative to emerge was a direct response to the first by Zionists, who sought to purposefully conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, in order delegitimise opposition to the Zionist project.

Both of these narratives are false, and both are substantive in informing the contemporary dispute as to whether or not the left has an anti-Semitism problem.

Another critical part in determining whether or not it is legitimate to accuse the left of tolerating anti-Semitism developed out of the troubling character and partnerships the Zionist movement developed during the 1930s and 40s, when they were in pursuit of a national homeland. The sharp rise of nationalism throughout the world during this period caused a trend of seemingly unimaginable political relationships. Connections developed within the League Against Imperialism, despite its connection to the Comintern, led directly to the future collaboration of socialist-leaning Northern Irish republicans, and left-wing Breton separatists, with Nazi Germany through partnerships developed with socialist Rhinish autonomists during the 1920s. Similar to European socialist-come-nationalist groups, so too did the nationalist inspirations of the Zionists lead to seemingly incongruous relationships.

In 1933, the Zionist Federation of Germany formed an agreement with Germany to support the large-scale migration of German Jews to British Mandatory Palestine. Similar to the motivating factors behind the socialist leadership of the Irish Republic Army in Northern Ireland aligning itself with Germany under the logic that the enemy (Germany) of my enemy (Britain) is my friend, the increasing resistance of the British toward Jewish migration into Palestine encouraged European Zionists to make an agreement with Germany. The Haavara Agreement between the German state and German Zionists, which was upheld by the Eighteenth International World Zionist Congress, was not the only example of the coordination of Zionists with Germany. Two far-right wing Zionist groups that were engaged in a terrorist campaign against the British in Palestine also endeavoured to make deals with the German state in order to gain a nation-state. The Irgun and Lehi (also called the Stern Gang), led by future Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who modelled themselves after the IRA and were openly sympathetic to fascism, attempted to establish an official alliance with Germany. These inconvenient historical realities, however, do not excuse Ken Livingstone’s assertion that Hitler himself was a Zionist.

Following the Holocaust, and the tumultuous birth of Israel, as well as the subsequent wars and border changes of the 1960s and 70s, the two parallel conspiracy theories continued to grow and shift. One, spread by the far-right, predicated on the age-old claims of a Jewish world conspiracy desirous of global domination enacted through control of international banking and finance and now bolstered by the state of Israel and its partnership with the American government, continued to link all Jews directly to Israel and Zionism. The other, a counter-narrative peddled by Zionists and Israeli nationalists, continued to capitalise on the concept that Jewishness and the Jewish homeland were indivisibly united in order to confound anti-Israeli arguments with anti-Semitism and argue that those who oppose Israel oppose Jews in general.

In what can only be seen as a peculiar ideological shift, historically speaking, contemporary elements of the far-right have recently adopted Israel as talisman due to the state’s perceived Islamophobia. Groups like the English Defence League began carrying Israeli flags during marches to goad counter-demonstrators who would often turn up with Palestinian flags. The championing of Israel by the far-right is directly related to the rise of the left’s criticism of Israeli expansionism and the human rights abuses committed by the state against Palestinians. An unfortunate consequence of this polarisation has been the infection of elements within the left with the far-right disease of conspiracy theories concerning the existence a Zionist Occupation Government design to establish global control. It makes ideological sense that the criticism of the power of groups such as the Rothschilds maintain over both international banking and the international Jewish Congress would appeal to the anti-capitalist sensibilities of some within the left. While support for the Palestinians, which is in line with anti-imperialist sympathies present within much of the left, has also coaxed some within it to fall prey to the notion of Israeli ultra-nationalism as being synonymous with Jewishness. It is incumbent on the left to recognise these issues and reject the temptation to buy into far-right generated conspiracies, no matter how enticing to the progressive ideology they may appear.

In response to the demand by Jewish groups that Labour deal with anti-Semitism, the left needs to commit itself to demanding explicitness and transparency in the discourse surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict, and reject any nebulousness from both within and without. It is imperative to be clear in the differentiation of what constitutes anti-Semitism and what comprises legitimate political, humanitarian, and anti-imperialist arguments against Israel, its government, and its policies.

It is not anti-Semitic to criticise the state of Israel, its actions, policies, or the historical and contemporary displacement of Palestinians by force. It is not anti-Semitic to historically analyse the coordination of the German state in the 30s with the Zionist Federation of Germany and radical right-wing Zionists in Palestine such as the Lehi, the Irgun, and Yitzhak Shamir. It is not anti-Semitic to decry the forced population transfer, expulsion, and concentration of Palestinians by the state of Israel. It is not anti-Semitic to oppose the illegal expansionism of Israel and its occupation, cleansing, and settlement of lands recognised by the world and international law as being Palestinian. It is not anti-Semitic to compare the treatment of Palestinians and Arab-Israelis by the Israeli state to that of blacks under South African apartheid. It is not anti-Semitic to denounce the camp-style internment of African migrants within Israel and plan to deport them back to locations unknown in Africa to which they did not originate and have no say in choosing. It is not anti-Semitic to boycott Israel itself or goods produced within it. And, it is not anti-Semitic to be wholly against Zionism and to even the question the right of the state of Israel to exist – just as it is not bigoted to question the right of other settler-states such as Canada to exist as from an Indigenous-rights or anti-colonial perspective.

It is anti-Semitic to deny or question the scope of the Holocaust. It is anti-Semitic to claim Hitler was a true Zionist as Ken Livingstone did. It is anti-Semitic to assert international finance is controlled by an Illuminati-like secret society headed by Jews seeking a ZOG world government. It is anti-Semitic to attack individual Israeli citizens living outside of the occupied territories and illegal settlements, just as it is inappropriate to attack average Americans, Australians, Canadians, and New Zealanders for being born on land confiscated from Indigenous peoples in the past. And, it is anti-Semitic to attack or hate all Jews because of the actions of Israel and claim every to Jew to be complicit in Zionist oppression simply due to their being Jewish.

So, does the left have an anti-Semitism problem? It depends on who you ask. According to an inquiry into anti-Semitism within the Labour Party led by Baroness Chakrabarti in 2016, the answer is no. The Chakrabarti Inquiry report found that while the Party does need to be more proactive in its rejection of bigotry, it “is not over-run by anti-Semitism.” This finding was not universally accepted within Labour, however, as, shortly after the Chakrabarti report was published, Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth rejected its findings and claimed that a Corbyn-led Labour Party was not a safe space for British Jews. Due in part to Smeeth’s comments and the Labour appointment of Chakrabarti to the House of Lords shortly after the inquiry, a cross-party Home Affairs Select Committee was convened to investigate anti-Semitism within political and organisational bodies across the UK.

The Select Committee on Anti-Semitism described the Chakrabarti Inquiry as compromised and criticised the parameters of the inquiry, stating that the definition of anti-Semitism used in the report was too loose. While the Select Committee aimed criticism at all of Britain’s major political parties, it found that “there exists no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of anti-Semitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party.”

There also seems to be a lack of consensus within the Jewish community in Britain as to whether Labour suffers from endemic anti-Semitism. According to Maureen Lipman, a celebrity spokesperson for the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, Corbyn’s anti-Semitism ‘made her a Tory’. However, Lipman has also called Corbyn a Marxist and has previously claimed to have abandoned Labour when former leader Ed Miliband – who is of Jewish heritage himself – supported a motion to recognise Palestinian statehood. It must also be noted that the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism in their own study into anti-semitism within political parties found Labour members to be less anti-semitic than Tory party members. On the other side, the left-wing and Israel-sceptic Jewish group Jewdas hosted Corbyn at their Passover Seder, claiming that in Corbyn they have a pro-Jewish ally who isn’t afraid to criticise Israel. However, Corbyn’s attendance at the Seder was immediately condemned by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, who claimed Jewdas to be a clearinghouse for “virulent anti-Semitism.”

In my own experience, there is a tendency within the radical reaches of the far-left to transcend anti-Zionism and enter into anti-Semitism. Having spent time at the London Action Resource Centre (LARC) in Whitechapel, East London, I have witnessed first-hand the tolerance of anti-Semitism in the name of anti-Zionism and anti-capitalism that exists within pockets of the far-left. LARC is housed, ironically, in a former synagogue located a stone’s throw from where the Battle of Cable Street took place – a street fight which pitted local Jewish residents against Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists and is widely considered to be the first antifascist action in Britain. However, despite the building’s Jewish history, in my experience volunteering at the social centre, I observed a consensus within sections of the far-left that sanctioned anti-Semitism as long as it was enveloped within anti-zionist and/or anti-capitalist rhetoric, it was acceptable.

At present, anti-Semitism is being promoted by the right, as well as conservative Jewish groups, and elements within the mainstream media, as a being a problem that disproportionately pollutes the left. However, even staunchly pro-Israel groups such as the Community Security Trust have found that the left is no more anti-Semitic than the centre-ground, and certainly less so than the right.

Due to the lack of consensus as to whether it is fair to say that the left, in general, has an anti-Semitism problem, what is required is for both the left and those claiming that Labour is a safe-haven for anti-Semitism to enter into an honest and explicit dialogue as to what constitutes anti-Semitism so that it can be appropriately dealt with. In order to do so, both sides must disavow themselves of any narratives and conspiracy theories that may drive a wedge between the progressive left and Jewish community groups.

The left must explicitly reject any temptation from within to subscribe to the historically embedded narrative of pan-Jewish plans for a New World Order. Rehashing imagery of global Jewry populating a ZOG cabal that controls the banks and fundamentally manipulates the American and Israeli governments by way of worldwide Jewish ‘deep state’ simply discredits legitimate opposition to contemporary Israeli policy and must be vociferously cast off by the left.

On the other side, the constant equation of anti-Israeli opinion with anti-Semitism must stop. It is disingenuous and only serves to stoke the fires of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Maintaining the line that those who oppose Israel, including Jewish groups like Jewdas, do so out of anti-Semitism is counterproductive to a meaningful resolution. If pro-Israeli forces continue to reject any critique of Israel and its historical or contemporary policies as being one and the same, or inspired by, anti-Semitism, the left’s capacity to tackle genuine anti-Semitism within its ranks will be severely impeded.

In the end, what is needed to solve the debate over the left’s alleged anti-Semitism problem is consistency and explicitness on all sides. The left and Jewish community groups must reject those within their ranks who perpetuate false narratives and conspiracy theories. Only then can all sides enter into a meaningful dialogue.

The Pornography of War

 

Chemical, gas, phosphorous, even radioactive weapons are fine when used by ‘our side’ but cause for military intervention when used by our supposed ‘enemies’. An intervention which draws on stocks from the above.

Al Jazeera reporter Dahr Jamail stated that, ‘The U.S. invasion of Iraq has left behind a legacy of cancer and birth defects suspected of being caused by the U.S. military’s extensive use of depleted uranium and white phosphorus.’

Witnessing the birth defects in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, Jamail added: ‘They’re extremely hard to bear witness to. But it’s something that we all need to pay attention to … What this has generated is, from 2004 we are seeing a high rate of congenital malformations in this city.’

His view was supported in an epidemiological study in The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health which concluded that: ‘Fallujah is experiencing higher rates of cancer, leukemia and infant mortality than Hiroshima and Nagasaki did in 1945.’ (Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005-2009).

Fourteen years later ex-UK ambassador Craig Murray writes about Syria: ‘In this extraordinary war, where Saudi-funded jihadist head choppers have Israeli air support and US and UK military “advisers”, every time the Syrian army is about to take complete control of a major jihadist enclave, at the last moment when victory is in their grasp, the Syrian Army allegedly attacks children with chemical weapons, for no military reason at all.’

There is an interesting history to chemical weapons attack accusations. The alleged chemical attack by Syrian forces in Khan Sheikhoun in 2017, led to Trump’s decision to launch a cruise missile strike against the government’s Shayrat airbase in Homs, and was accompanied by Trump’s announcement that regime change in Damascus was now a US objective. A year later, the Douma attack has also come at a critical point, just as the entire district of eastern Ghouta has been ‘liberated’ from opposition militant groups, dominated by Jaish al-Islam.

Of the 2017 attack, Theodore Postol, a leading weapons academic at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), believed that the US government did not provide any “concrete” evidence that Assad was responsible. He said: ‘I have reviewed the [White House’s] document carefully, and I believe it can be shown, without doubt, that the document does not provide any evidence whatsoever that the US government has concrete knowledge that the government of Syria was the source of the chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria at roughly 6am to 7am on 4 April, 2017’.

Today the drums of war get louder with Donald Trump tweeting his love of the ‘nice, new and smart’ missiles he is about to launch, urged on by Tony Blair and with Theresa May summoning her ‘war’ cabinet.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the OPCW, have said they are not able to verify the reports on the alleged use of chemical weapons and want to send a special mission to Douma. Looks like Trump’s missiles may get there before they do.

Craig Murray is right to warn that, ‘The massive orchestration of Russophobia over the last two years is intended to prepare public opinion for a wider military conflict centred on the Middle East, but likely to spread, and that we are approaching that endgame.’

Perhaps there is another endgame in sight and they are linked. It’s the arrival of the fifth horseman of the Apocalypse, ‘War as Diversion’.

The FBI has now raided the offices of Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. He was involved in the $130,000 payment to ‘Stormy Daniels’. Apparently she can describe the President’s ‘junk perfectly’.

For the sake of the dead and the soon-to-die and for all our sanities, it is time to oppose the way our governments are fetishizing and enabling these mindless wars.

Social Media is shattering the establishment’s control of the ‘Overton Window’

The Overton Window was a term first used in the 1990s by Joseph Overton, a former Vice-President of the right-wing US Mackinac Center for Public Policy, whose founding principles stated that, “The free market is a powerful engine of economic prosperity. We look forward to the day when the myths and fears of free-market capitalism are dispelled.”

He argued that an idea’s political viability depends on whether it falls within the window. Ideas that fall outside the window are to be banished from public discourse since they are out of step with ‘public opinion’.

Notice I have used inverted commas around ‘public opinion’ and that is because that opinion is defined by those who have turned a window into a mirror. They have narcissistically placed their world view at the centre of acceptable thought. ‘Mirror mirror on the wall, whose ideas can I install? Mine of course.’

Chances are that you have never heard of Mr Overton or his window, but you can bet your bottom dollar that our corporate media have not only heard of this particular fenestra, but spend their lives staring through it and polishing the glass. They also stand guard over it and decide what is allowed into view.

And what is in view is all that is in step with the neo-liberal agenda for promoting policies based on austerity for the many and wealth for the few, racism and war. This last given the Orwellian term of ‘liberal interventionism’.

I’ve heard a BBC political commentator claim that the Overton Window keeps out extremes that are both wrong and unworkable. Read that as too left or right-wing but, wait, what about Nigel Farange frequent appearances on BBC Question Time. The window must always be allowed some latitude towards the Right.

There is nothing new about any of this. In the 1950s sociologists Lewis Coser and Ralf Dahrendorf criticised the dominant sociological theories which emphasized the consensual, conflict-free nature of societies. They talked about forces of power, interests, coercion, and conflict. By the time I was a sociology student in the 60s, even Dharendorf was conservative for us as we turned to Marx and the ‘Communist Manifesto’, published soon after the 1848 revolutions in Germany, Italy and France broke all the windows.

Speaking of which I have been reading about the current strikes in France – not much on the BBC or in The Guardian. Who cares? We now have a social media which has turned its back on allowable opinions. The window is now wide open and we can jump outside and change the view.