Politics, Philosophy, Polemics

Archive for the ‘Antisemitism’ Category

Free Speech – From the Vaults – Bernard Levin

In Anti-Zionism, Antisemitism, Freedom of Expression, From the Vaults on January 23, 2015 at 10:28 AM

This is a cross post. It was originally published at Harry’s Place on January 17th 2015, 12:31 pm

In early 1987 the UK Jewish community was in uproar about the play, Perdition, which was due to be shown at the Royal Court Theatre in London. The play was written by Jim Allen, who had been associated with an extremist Marxist group. The controversy is obvious when one considers the author’s own words about the play: “it says quite plainly that privileged Jewish leaders collaborated in the extermination of their own kind in order to bring about a Zionist state, Israel.” (Time Out, January 21-28, 1987). While the play was cancelled because the Artistic Director lost confidence in it, a debate raged in the press about the historical aspects of the play, whether the play was antisemitic, artistic freedom and free speech.

Of all the articles written about the controversy, one of the most eloquently and passionately argued was that by the late Bernard Levin for The Times. (“Waking the dead to revile the living,” February  2, 1987, p.16). He accused the play of a “peculiar vileness” from which antisemitism “oozes.” He said the author had unashamedly reproduced “Stalinist disinformation,” to write a play “littered throughout with inexcusable errors and horrible lies.” Despite these views Levin was a passionate defender of free speech. He concluded his article as follows:

…free speech is for swine and liars as well as upright and honest men. I have insisted that any legally permissable view, however repugnant, is less dangerous promulgated than banned, and I would defend its promulgation even if the opposite were true. I have glorified in the central paradox of democracy, which is that it tolerates, and must continue to tolerate, the activities of those who wish to destroy it.

In all the beliefs I have lived, and I am minded to die in them; how then can I defend the suppression of this play? I cannot, which is not to say that if it had never been written it now should be. But it exists, and ‘He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still.’ With a heavy heart, I yet must say it: Let them have their play.

It is a shame he is no longer with us.


Richard Seymour, the SWP, and Antisemitism

In Antisemitism, Trotskyism, U.K. Left on April 20, 2013 at 9:11 AM

This is a a cross post. It was originally published at Harry’s Place on April 5th 2013, 12:09 pm

Richard Seymour had been a long term, high-profile member of the Socialist Workers Party until his recent resignation. He now believes everyone on the left has to confess to their crimes:

If you have never, as a socialist activist, found yourself defending a line you later regretted, kept quiet about something you shouldn’t have, rationalised away a feeling of unease, then you’re either still deluded or a fucking liar.

He comments on his own crimes:

Shall I start the ball rolling? What mistakes did I personally make as an SWP member? Not making my objections to our hosting of the antisemitic crank Atzmon, and the preposterous rationale for doing so, explicit – particularly when it was made clear to me that the paper wouldn’t host a letter on the subject. Party members can attest that I and others took this up within the party, and that I trolled Atzmon’s talk at Bookmarks, but it really wasn’t enough.

We can list the facts:

1. Richard Seymour believed that the SWP was hosting an antisemite

2. He admits that didn’t kick up too much of a fuss about it.

3. He stayed in the Party despite the fact that he thought the Party hosted an antisemite.

We can therefore conclude that antisemitism in his party didn’t bother him too much, certainly not enough to leave the party. I would not be surprised to hear him say that he is bothered about antisemitism, but that he did not want to “have it as a shibboleth.” Throw the Jews into the sea. What does it matter if there is a greater good: revolution?

The Perdition Affair

In Anti-Zionism, Antisemitism, From the Vaults, Israel, Trotskyism on May 17, 2012 at 6:41 PM

In 1987 a debate occurred in public sphere on a play written Jim Allen, someone who had previously been associated with Gerry Healy’s organisation the Socialist Labour League, a forerunner to the WRP.  The play was called Perdition and was in the genre of faction, a fictional play with historical facts brought in. The historical facts in this case was that of the Zionist leaders in Hungary during the Holocaust and of Zionism in general during the 1930s and 1940s. The play was loosely based on the Kasztner trial that occurred in Israel in the 1950s.

Allen was quoted in Time Out, (January 21-28, 1987) declaring the play:

the most lethal attack on Zionism ever written, because it touches on the heart of the most abiding myth of modern history, the Holocaust. Because it says quite plainly that privileged Jewish leaders collaborated in the extermination of their own kind in order to bring about a Zionist state, Israel, a state which is itself racist.

The play was due to be shown at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs but was pulled by the theatre in January 1987 shortly before public previews were due to go ahead. The Artistic Director, Max Stafford Clark, had lost confidence in the play. But this was not before there had been a storm of controversy played out in the press and as a result of meetings that had occurred between the theatre and the play’s critics. Critics had accused the play of distorting the history of the Holocaust and of antisemitism.

One of the more interesting polemical exchanges on the play was in a few issues of the Trotskyist magazine Workers’ Liberty, the magazine of the organisation Socialist Organiser, the forerunner to today’s Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL). The reason for this post is that the AWL have recently published the debate on their website.  Sean Matgamna, writing under his pen name, John O’Mahony, wrote the initial article attacking the play. In two subsequent issues there was an exchange between Matgmana and the anti-Zionist activist Tony Greenstein. The Engage web site has linked to this debate and a discussion is under way where both I and my good friend Paul Bogdanor have commented.

For those interested in either the anti-Zionism from the far-left in the UK or in portrayals of the Kasztner affair, then an understanding of this play and the controversy that ensued is useful. One of the more important debates on the play was a televised debate on March 18, 1987 for Channel 4’s Diverse Reports. A recording of this programme has been uploaded to the Internet and can be seen below: