Joseph Goebbels said fascists should not worry about their propaganda being too rough or too mean. ‘It ought not be decent nor ought it be gentle or soft or humble; it ought to lead to success.’
No one could accuse the anti-Semitic propaganda in London’s East End of being ‘soft’. The Los Angeles graffiti artist Kalen Ockerman, who calls himself ‘Mear One’ to sound more street, painted a mural on the side of a house near Brick Lane showing bankers sitting round a monopoly board resting on the backs of suffering humanity.
The bank that crashed the British economy almost a decade ago was the Royal Bank of Scotland. But history shows there’s more of a market for hating the Jews than hating the Scots. Rather than portray Fred Goodwin, Ockerman decided to show a ‘banker group made up of Jewish and white Anglos’. They represented ‘the elite banker cartel known as the Rothschilds, Rockefellers, Morgans, the ruling class, elite view, the Wizards of Oz’. It is the ‘Rothschilds’ with their bulging hooked noses and stringy beards who grab the attention. In what was once the heart of Jewish London, they shuffled their monopoly money, beneath the eye-in-the pyramid symbol so beloved of conspiracists wishing to tie the Judaic to the Masonic.
The work reeked of fascism. Oppression was represented by grinding cogs that might have been painted by an Italian futurist circa 1920. The bankers did not have today’s gym-toned bodies and Armani suits. They were hideous old men in stiff collars no financier has worn since the 1930s. Ockerman called his effort ‘freedom for humanity,’ and you did not need acute perception to gather who humanity needed to be free of.
Apart from Ockerman, no one in 2012 tried to pretend that this was anything other than racist art. Even Lutfur Rahman, the then Muslim mayor of Tower Hamlets said it ‘perpetuated anti-Semitic propaganda about conspiratorial Jewish domination of financial and political institutions’.
No one, that is, apart from Jeremy Corbyn, who protested against the mural’s destruction, and compared its shabby creator to the great Diego Rivera.
Many have noticed the difference between the 20th century and now is that today racists rarely admit to being racist. Donald Trump and the Republican Party go to great lengths to stop African Americans voting, and receive the endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan. But call them racists and they point to the record which shows they have never asserted white supremacy.
Every denunciation of high finance on the modern left sooner or late invokes ‘the Rothschilds’ rather than ‘the Goodwins’. Meanwhile, ‘Zionist’ has become an all-purpose signifier of evil. Yesterday, I was passed left-wing propaganda urging the removal of the earthy Brummie MP Jess Phillips that has been knocking around for a year now. What can her enemies say against her, I thought. I should have known better. The first charge was that she was a ‘Zionist MP’. Of course it was. It’s now the first charge against every traitor to and deviant from far left orthodoxy.
‘If you are antisemitic, you will be driven out of the Labour Party,’ Owen Jones, who appears to have given up on journalism to become a Labour spin doctor, assured frightened Jews last week. Yet the leader he serves was a member of a private Facebook group that promoted holocaust deniers, and has endorsed every variety of Arab anti-Semite including one who raised the medieval ‘blood libel’ that Jews baked bread with the blood of Christian children from the grave. When it was forced to explain his support for a mural depicting the a hook-nosed global conspiracy yesterday, Corbyn’s office first claimed that ‘Jeremy’ was defending free speech: a ludicrous statement given that, in 2006, he was at a rally in Trafalgar Square denouncing the Danish cartoons of Muhammad, and has never to my knowledge been on a platform fighting for freedom of speech – and I should know as I have been on most of them. Finally, it admitted that five years after the event, and five years too late, and only when he had finally been cornered, ‘Jeremy’ accepted the work was offensive and he expressed ‘sincere regret’ at failing to look more closely at the mural.
This is the way it goes with Corbyn. His supporters say he has spent his life fighting anti-Semitism, a defence that would seem less spurious if they could supply sceptics with a single example of solidarity with Jewish people. For, and on the contrary, rather than finding examples of Corbyn fighting anti-Semitism all we can find is examples of the leader of the opposition allying with anti-Semites with a thoroughly modern sneakiness.
Just as Trump has never announced in plain language that the white man is superior to the black, so Corbyn has never announced that Jews are conspiring to control the world. Both men give just enough to satisfy the racists in their own ‘base’ then back away denouncing accusations of racism as vile slurs. In both cases, the outside observer sees a slippery operator sending out nods and winks while always being aware of the need for plausible deniability.
You could see the tactic at work with Russia. Corbyn, Seumas Milne and Andrew Murray do not enthusiastically endorse the gangsters in the Kremlin as their predecessors in the communist movement endorsed Lenin and Stalin. Corbyn did not say the Russians were innocent of the charge of using nerve agents to attempt murder in Salisbury. Instead, he gave Russian propagandists and his supporters in the world of Internet cranks just enough to work with when he opined that although Russia might have done it, ‘Russian mafia-like groups that have been allowed to gain a toehold in Britain cannot be excluded’.
A few months ago, a friend who is also a successful stand-up told me that he was one of only four comedians on the circuit who did not support Corbyn. In universities and the left-wing press those of us who have spoken out against the far left have grown used to being met with – how can I put this mildly? – a cool response from our colleagues. The assumption among right-thinking, left-leaning people is that they are good and wickedness is confined to the right. By this reasoning the worst charge that can be thrown at the far left is that is naively idealistic, a charge which, when you think about it, is no charge at all. By this reasoning, Corbyn is an amiable old buffer rather than a dirty old man.
Such thinking can predominate because, until now, no one in British history has had to confront the reality of the far left in control of the Labour party, and perhaps soon the country. Most comedians have not satirised it, most academics, dramatists and journalists have not exposed it because until now there has been no need to take it seriously; no need to understand that the far left is not merely an extension of the centre left but a malign force that, as Momentum is proving, regards the centre-left as its avowed enemy.
Perhaps as more is revealed about its darkness respectable opinion will change. Whether it will change in time is another matter. Maybe I am being pessimistic but it looks to me that the politics Corbyn represents are ‘the left’ now and will remain so for a generation.