If racism is to succeed in corrupting institutions and countries it needs authorisation from the elite. The popular caricature of the racist as a white working-class man, or superstitious east european peasant, or shabby paranoid academic, shows not only class bias, but a lack of understanding that what transforms extremism from poisonous men muttering in corners to political movements with the power to ruin lives, is the authorisation given by leaders and intellectuals.
A party can have racist members – as the Conservative party undoubtedly does. But because its leadership is not anti-Muslim their effect is constrained to personal abuse. I don’t mean to diminish it. If my experience is typical, race-based insults are something you never forget. But by their nature they remain a part of the everyday ugliness of life. Corbyn’s Labour, like Trump’s Republicans, has an institutionally racist leadership working with the worst of the party’s membership. Anti-Semites everywhere were empowered by Corbyn’s victory. The failure of the Labour membership to reject him not once, but twice, not only licensed existing racists to let rip but encouraged others to release hatreds they barely knew they had.
Listen to the giggling reaction from a Labour audience to anti-Jewish jokes whose crassness would have embarrassed Bernard Manning and learn how the far left has completed the project of Oswald Mosley and the National Front and made anti-Semitism mainstream:
As the authentically left wing Alliance for Workers’ Liberty said in a paragraph I wish I’d written:
Milk gone sour then “thickens” and changes its consistency. The long-existing absolute anti-Zionist antisemitism dominant on the pseudo-revolutionary left has, on entry to the new, new Labour Party, thickened into something more virulent and poisonous. There is joy and satisfaction in self-righteous hatred, a nasty mix of aggression and self-love. “Zionist”-baiting can become an agreeable activity.
Lord Falconer is meant to be conducting an inquiry. I wonder if he understands that the crisis in Labour is not about processes but leadership. The stories in the Observer and Times about Andrew Murray, the aristocratic Stalinist and his daughter intervening in racism investigations, or Tom Watson’s attempt to regain control of racism inquiries, boil down to the fact that a far left that has lived and breathed anti-Semitic conspiracy theories for years controls the Labour leadership, its National Executive Committee and the party headquarters.
You can have the most scrupulous anti-racist measures in the world. No good will they do if the men and women in charge are determined to override them.
Before 2015, anti-Semitic conspiracism defined the far left. Not all of it, I should add. There are decent men and women on the far left as the example of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty shows. Crucially, however, it was a conspiracism that was rarely challenged, because the milder variants of the same prejudices were shared among elements of the centre-left and reactionary Tories. I and others tried to warn mainstream opinion about the forces that were building in the last decade. We failed because the liberal mainstream saw criticism of the far left as an attack on itself, with some justice, I should add, and because the Labour party under Blair Brown and Miliband lost any sense of history.
They forgot, assuming they ever knew, that the far left isn’t an extension of centre-left any more than Nazism is an extension of conservatism. Communists and their ideological descendants aren’t purer versions of social democrats: like centre-leftists only truer and braver. The far left is the centre-left’s totalitarian enemy, as it has proved by executing social democrats whenever it came to power.
This is why Lord Falconer’s inquiry is such a test of his moral and intellectual integrity. I know him a little and like him a lot. But if he is to escape from this with his reputation intact he will have to overcome his normally endearing eagerness to please.
It is not just that he is not independent: the Labour party has called in a Labour peer to investigate itself. If Theresa May asked a Tory peer to investigate scandals in her Government, Labour politicians would be the first to scream ‘cover up’. It’s more that Falconer is from the failed generation of Labour politicians who never took on the far left when it could have been beaten.
Margaret Hodge has claimed Falconer ‘bombarded’ her with phone calls last summer, when she was facing disciplinary action – later dropped – over an angry confrontation with Corbyn about left anti-Semitism. Falconer wanted to ‘force me to give an apology,’ she alleged. Falconer has denied the charge. His inquiry can make his case for him by showing that he has the ability to face Labour as it is: a social democratic party that has been taken over by the heirs to the communist tradition.
John McDonnell suggests that anti-Semites are a regrettable sign of Labour’s success. Labour has attracted so many members their number was bound to include a few racists. But as for ‘these allegations that the Labour Party is institutionally anti-Semitic I reject completely,’ he told Sky News.
Institutionally racist is precisely what Labour has become. Not just Corbyn but the entire Stalinist left took on the conspiracy theory of Iran, the Arab dictatorships, the Islamist terror movements and, going back, of the Stalinists of the 1950s and of the Nazis of the 1930s. They believed in infinite Jewish malevolence. Anything the far left sees as evil or wrong in the world can be the result of the eternally scheming Jew. Hence Jeremy Corbyn worked for the Iranian state propaganda channel. Iran may suppress the rights of women, ethnic minorities, gays and trade unionists but it is so anti-Semitic it promotes Holocaust denial, so Corbyn could take its money in good conscience. Hence Corbyn told his Iranian friends that he suspected ‘the hand of Israel in this whole process of destabilisation’ after Islamists murdered Egyptian police officers. Hence a Labour MP and supporters immediately suggested that the breakaway Independent Group must be financed by Israel – for who else but Jews would want to weaken Labour? Hence the strange silence, not just on the left but everywhere, about whether Labour is helping Palestinians. I can’t see how it is. By tying the Palestinian cause to conspiracy theorists it makes sensible people back away, and gives the Israeli government more credit that it deserves. More seriously, the far left follows Iran and Hamas’s policy of urging the total destruction of Israel. A war to the death, in other words, and a war, given the balance of forces in the Middle East, the Palestinians must lose. But then left anti-Semitism is not really concerned with the fate of living, breathing Palestinians. It is about allowing the half-witted and the hate-filled to revel in conspiratorial fantasies that have been sanctified by two millennia of anti-Jewish prejudice.
Does Lord Falconer begin to understand how corrupted the leadership of the Labour party has become? I don’t see how he can. For if he did, he would have resigned his Labour membership in disgust.