Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The SWP Defends Civilization

The following official statement of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) campaign for DC city council appeared in the February 9th issue of The Militant.
The Socialist Workers Party opposes Jew-hatred and joins in fighting it whenever it raises its head. We support the right of return for all Jews to move to Israel if they choose. And we demand Washington open its doors to all who seek refuge here.

The conspiracy theorists among us will proclaim an evil plot by Jack Barnes to betray the principles of not just Trotskyism, but Marxism as well. They will say that the Party is moving to the Right.

I have no clue about how the Party reaches decisions these days, and maybe this is an edict from Mr. Barnes himself. But why? Why would the Socialist Workers Party--long a champion of the Palestinian cause--all of a sudden come out in support of the Jewish right of return?

Did they just lose their marbles? Is Mr. Barnes a secret Republican? Does Mr. Barnes have such hypnotic sway that he can make 180 degree turns with no objections from the rank and file? Is Glova Scott (the African-American woman charged with issuing the campaign statement) a mentally-ill, unthinking person trained to spout off whatever words Mr. Barnes puts into her mouth?

No, no, no, and no.

The statement is a break from the past, but as we shall see, perhaps not a very big one. It is entirely consistent with the history of the SWP.

The Party has never been antisemitic. It wasn't when I was a member. It has not been antisemitic since I started writing about them on this blog (or its predecessors). It isn't now. The Party has always tried to be pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist, without being antisemitic.

It's a pretty narrow needle to thread. When I was a member we called for a democratic secular state in Palestine in which the rights of both Palestinians and Jews would be respected. That was a completely impractical demand, but I can attest to our sincerity. I believed it myself, and I have no reason to think my comrades thought differently. It was not a fig leaf for antisemitism.

So it is possible (at least with some mental gymnastics) to be anti-Zionist without hating Jews. What is impossible is to support Hamas. Hamas is intrinsically an antisemitic organization. Any group which supports Hamas is, to the extent they understand what they're talking about, antisemitic.

The SWP has not supported Hamas for many years, as this blog has documented, most recently here. Few other groups on the Left have such a record. Apart from the SWP, all of the grouplets and blogs I follow support Hamas--and I will accuse them of antisemitism.

The grouplets defend themselves in silly ways. Louis Proyect, for example, simply claims that antisemitism doesn't exist. Even funnier is Socialist Action's (SA) efforts to condemn tiny, non-examples of antisemitism while ignoring the elephant in the room.

In a recent article about Greece, SA expresses displeasure with Syriza's new coalition partner, a conservative group known as ANEL. "It has close ties with the Greek Orthodox Church, is pro-NATO, and homophobic; and its leader Kammenos has made anti-Semitic comments—accusing Greek Jews of paying less in taxes than Orthodox Greeks." Criticizing Jews, or public policy directed toward Jews, is not evidence of antisemitism. If Jews are receiving government bennies then it is fair politics to put that on the table, just as it is possible to criticize affirmative action in this country without being racist. It is hypocritical of SA to point out the mote in ANEL's eye without apologizing for their enthusiastic support for Hamas. ANEL criticizes a social benefit; Hamas advocates mass murder. SA can't tell the difference.

The SWP does understand that difference. So now let's get to the Party's novel, seemingly pro-Zionist position. While that is a change, it's not a very big one and is entirely consistent with their Trotskyist heritage.

Like all other Western political thought, Marxism grew out of the Enlightenment. It is based on a shared meaning of justice and freedom. In order for Marxism to have some slight chance of success, Enlightenment values have to prevail. Socialism--hard enough as it is--simply can't work in a pre-modern, tribal society, obsessed with a nihilistic, murderous world view. That's why Marx always held that the first socialist countries would be advanced, European ones, such as England or Germany. The Party's line has always been that the success of Stalinism was due to Russia's backwards economy and political culture.

If the odds in Russia were long, then surely they're piss-poor in any kind of Hamas-dominated country. You can't have wannabe mass murderers running the place and expect socialism to survive. In order for socialism to have a chance, civilization must be present at some level.

The only civilized country in the Middle East is Israel--by civilized, I mean a country that holds some variant of Enlightenment values. Therefore, if socialism is to have a chance, it has to go through Israel first. Accordingly, the path to socialism is not the abolition of Israel, but rather the building of a socialist revolution within Israel. So The Militant is now covering workers' movements in Israel, such as this strike by kosher chicken butchers (scroll down).

Of course as a matter of practical, revolutionary politics, this is no more realistic than empty demands for a democratic, secular Palestine. Socialism won't happen in Israel nor anyplace else. But at least it has some big principles right. The Party's new position can distinguish between mass murderers and revolutionaries. That's a big improvement over most of the American (or world) Left, who have fallen hook, line and sinker for Hamas' antisemitism.

The Socialist Workers Party--whatever the status of its internal discourse or the mental health of its members--is part of the civilized world. We can have a conversation with them. They don't support mass murder in the Middle East.

Further Reading:

1 comment:

  1. I think that the WWP has the most consistent orthodox Trotskyist view on Israel-Palestine. Since most of the Palestinians are part of the international proletariat and Israel is oppressing them through imperialism, their armed struggle against Israel is just and progressive. Of course, most Trotskyists wouldn't be too enthusiastic about Hamas's other positions, but Trotskyists would dismiss objections to supporting them as "ultra-leftist." Once Hamas succeeds in its "liberation struggle," Marxist-Leninists in power in advanced countries are supposed to woo the Palestinians into a socialist revolution (since the bourgeoisie in Israel allegedly wants the Palestinians to stay socially backward). Nobody will say any of this in official publications, but it's the sort of stuff upper level party members would discuss.

    I'm guessing the SWP realized that Hamas getting more power wouldn't make anyone more receptive to Trotskyism. :-P