Marc Glendening is a Research Fellow at Policy Exchange.
I must confess that I got a sadistic frisson on first seeing Ken Livingstone being hounded up a flight of stairs at the BBC by an apparently frenzied John Mann MP, who was accusing him of being a ‘Nazi apologist’.
They werefollowed by assorted members of the alleged world Zionist media conspiracy. Ken was forced to seek refuge in a disabled loo, perhaps itself a personal political statement.
Here was the man who, in his period as leader of the GLC, helped to give physical expression to the intolerant victim group-based ideology of the New Left ,being labelled a fellow-traveller of Adolf Hitler. On a superficial level, the whole debacle was simply just too delicious for words.
It reminded me of my long lost days as a student Tory activist in the 1980s, when I and others would periodically be pursued by mobs of incandescent neo-trotskyites screaming ‘fascist’ at us – without any sense of irony, I assume.
Once after a meeting at South London Poly I had to create an early ‘safe space’ for myself in the gents, and was there for hours.
Then something started to make me feel a bit uneasy about being sucked so gleefully into the moral panic concerning anti-Semitism in the Labour party.
The claim that hatred of Jewish people is manifesting itself in twenty-first century Britain is disturbing enough in itself, but so too is the now customary atmosphere of hysteria surrounding the articulation of any controversial comment deemed to be ‘offensive’.
There are some people who want to turn the whole of Britain into one enormous, hideous, university-style debate-free zone, and the reaction to the allegations of anti-Semitism offer a disturbing insight into not only how conformist a society we are becoming but also how irrationally intolerant we are now when dealing with viewpoints we disagree with.
This is especially the case concerning the incendiary issues linked to race, religion, gender, sexuality – in fact, anything associated with the agenda Ken and the New Left started pioneering forty or so years ago.
The default position now for many people is not to intellectually and peacefully take on views they disagree with, think are nonsense, or deem dangerous.
Instead they demand that they be banned, and the individuals concerned be expelled from whatever organisations they are in, and forced to make grovelling public apologies.
Livingstone and those opposed to the state of Israel should have every right to say whatever it is they want to in relation to Zionism and the Nazis, just as the rest of us have the equal right, in turn, to examine and contest what they say and to pass judgement on them.
My argument in this context is that the Livingstone anti-Zionist tendency is peddling anti-Semitism, but it is important to recognise that it is a new form of this bizarre mind-set. It is not the same as the hostility towards the Jewish community as practised by Islamists and some others within the Muslim world, or by European neo-Nazis.
This updated version of anti-Semitism has a point of ideological departure which makes it no less morally reprehensible but nevertheless renders it different from the traditional sort, linked to dark age conspiracy theories concerning the drinking of the blood of babies and other insanities.
What might be called ‘second wave’ anti-Semitism is more contingent in nature ,and has its origins in the way in which some on the Marxist left of politics from the late 1960s onwards abandoned the focus on establishing a socialist planned economy and a class-based political analysis.
Such post-modernists reinterpreted the power struggle not as between the working class and the bosses, but as a conflict between various ‘privileged’ oppressor and oppressed groups defined by the theoreticians of the New Left. The universalist aspirations of old-style socialists, whether Marxist or social democrat, were abandoned.
This paradigm was then projected internationally onto the struggles between entire national communities with Israel, for example, being defined as an outpost of western domination and Palestinian Arabs as a colonised people.
According to this approach human beings are not autonomous individual beings but are ‘socially constructed’, and should be classified according to the particular characteristics they posses as they relate to the various dimensions of power and inequality.
This has resulted in the New Left adopting a dangerously simplistic and crude attitude towards entire categories of people regardless of their individual circumstances or the viewpoints they actually espouse. For example, neo-feminists claim that there is ‘a patriarchy’ in which men collectively stand in a relation of privilege compared to women despite there being full legal equality between these two categories.
At the heart of this perspective lies a profoundly anti-humanist way of looking at people as collections of abstract categories, which in turn tempts people towards irrational conclusions based on analyses of power for which there is no empirical evidence.
So the Jews become a privileged group with power over the allegedly oppressed Palestinians, especially within the context of the state of Israel.
This is why Livingstone recently said, very revealingly, by way of an attempt to refute the allegations made against him: “a real anti-Semite doesn’t just hate the Jews in Israel, they hate their neighbour in Golders Green…”. As the New Statesman commented in response: “as if hating Israeli Jews is excusable, or at least unimportant.”
It was also why the Naz Shah tweet that kicked off the whole uproar claimed the solution to the Middle East’s problems would be for Israelis to be deported en masse to the mid-West of America.
If anyone was in any doubt as to which religious section of the Israeli population she was referring to, Shah stated with regard to her above suggestion: “Israel can have a real safe Jewish state surrounded by friendly states.”
She was advocating Jews being rounded up and expelled from their homeland purely on the basis of their religious/ethnic identity.
This group-based, oppressor-oppressed analysis of power lends itself to an attitude which is incompatible with the logic of liberal democracy, which requires a respect for the equal rights of others, as individuals, to compete for power and to express their views freely.
Political adversaries must be viewed not as enemy combatants but as legitimate opponents. In contrast, the mentality of the New Left sees politics as a zero-sum power struggle, and this explains the intolerance and nastiness of tone.
The supposed oppressor groups are deemed to enjoy privilege by virtue of their control over the structures of power, and must have their capacity to communicate curtailed
Hence the recurring anti-zionist theme of there being a sinister lobby pumping out pro-Israeli propaganda, and Jewish societies in universities being prevented from organising meetings linked to Israel to ‘counter’ it. (This parallels classical Fascist conspiracy theories, of course).
For the New Left there is no such thing as ‘free speech’: all discourse either serves privilege or works for the liberation of those disadvantaged by it.
Livingstone, Corbyn and the rest don’t want to eradicate Jews simply by virtue of the fact they are Jews, but disparage and stereotype them as a collective because, according to their binary take on the Israel/Palestine question, they are the bad guys.
Those that refuse to come over to the side of lefty righteousness must then remain considered the enemy, who can be fought by any means necessary by those who view them as abstractions rather than people.
This is why Livingstone was happy as London mayor to share platforms with notorious Muslim cleric, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Q Qaradawi, who openly supported suicide bombings in Israel. This is why Jeremy Corbyn and Seamus Milne have publicly eulogised Hamas.
Killing Jews in Israel is a progressive act, violence for the sake of liberation (as it was for them too in Northern Ireland).
This friend or foe mentality, obsessive desire for conformity, finds expression too in Marx’s On the Jewish Question, in which he Marx wrote: “Money is the jealous god of Israel, in face of which no other god may exist… The bill of exchange is the real god of the Jew…”
It gets worse. Therefore, as Marx put it, “in the final analysis, the emancipation of the Jews is the emancipation of mankind from Judaism.”
As Larry Ray argues, “Marx’s position is essentially an assimilationist one in which there is no room within emancipated humanity for Jews as a separate ethnic or cultural identity.”
What Marx wanted was for Jews, who he saw primarily as being part of the broader exploitative capitalist class, to abandon the economic activities he associated them with collectively, to capitulate to his totalitarian world view.
The new generation still demand Jewish conformity, but differ in that they have abandoned practical socialism and demand instead that the Jewish community fall into line and become good anti-Zionists. The politics of identity and empowerment, you see, only cuts one way, when it comes to Israel and everything else.