Mainstream media as Iago to our collective Othello
Thursday, 30 June 2022 14:08

Mainstream media as Iago to our collective Othello

Tayo Aluko writes about the mysterious case of a misidentified(?) Robeson portrait. Image above: Paul Robeson as Othello

Once, many years ago, while touring the US, I happened to be listening to an NPR radio programme about Paul Robeson, with his son Paul Robeson, Jr., as the special guest. It started with a recording of Ol' Man River, Robeson's signature song. As it was playing, I couldn't help feeling that it didn't sound like the great man, but expected to be proved wrong. The presenter said, "That was Paul Robeson singing Ol' Man River," and introduced Paul Jr., who immediately retorted with, "That was NOT my father." I could feel the presenter's embarrassment, and expect a producer got chastised for that grave error.

I fear a number of people are in for similar embarrassment soon, for it has been reported in The Guardian, no less, that a long-lost portrait of Robeson has been rediscovered and will be going on display from May 14 at an exhibition of works by the painter Glyn Philpot at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester this month.

Once again, I am prepared to be proved wrong, but I am quite sure that the portrait to be displayed is NOT that of Paul Robeson. The only similarity between the portrait's model and Robeson himself is the colour of their skin. That's all. It makes me wonder how such established institutions can be so mistaken, and why nobody else that I know of appears to be challenging the claim.

The portrait is said to have been painted in 1930 while Robeson was playing Othello opposite Peggy Ashcroft at the Savoy Theatre, so we can use one of many pictures from that production, and compare it with the model in the portrait. This is what the gallery director apparently did, but where he saw a likeness, I see only differences. Start with the hairline. Robeson's recedes away from the front in a very much more pronounced way than in the portrait. Robeson sports a goatee (he always did for this role), while the model grows hair on his jaw, not quite joining with the sideburn. Robeson's moustache isn't as luxurious as that of the model. Then, there's the nose. Robeson's is flatter, wider, and tips downwards, unlike that of the model.

The fact that the model's clothing is different from that of Robeson's Othello could potentially be explained away by the possibility that he might have sat for the portrait in rehearsal costume, but how does one account for the anonymous title given the portrait when it was sold in 1944?  Robeson had burst into public consciousness when he played a highly acclaimed Joe in Showboat at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1928. He became a regular in concert halls all over the UK thereafter, and a much sought-after celebrity. And yet, his portrait is sold with the title "Head of a Negro?" Highly unlikely.

But the Guardian says it is Robeson, so it must be, right? I beg to differ, and would say that this appears to be a case of people wanting so badly to believe something to be true, that they ignore all evidence to the contrary. If I am right, this would be another case of a journalist and editors accepting information from a source and reproducing it without doing their own checks. The Guardian won't be alone in this, and indeed all of mainstream media, the BBC included, are accused by many of being complicit in peddling untruths fed to it by the global elite to such an extent that they are complicit in creating many of the world's ills.

We saw it in Robeson's time, when in 1949, he made a speech in Paris in which he questioned why African Americans would fight against the Soviet Union (America's ally until the end of WWII, and the place where he first felt the absence of racism), when they were second-class citizens in their own country. The press first distorted the speech to make it sound deliberately unpatriotic, and then whipped up anti-Black, anti-Semitic and anti-Communist sentiment to such an extent that by the time Robeson returned to his country, he had turned from being the most popular and successful artist to the most hated. This culminated in the infamous Peekskill Riots of August and September 1949: an episode from which he was lucky to emerge alive. The following year, his passport was cancelled, and it would be another eight years before he was able to tour again. His health, his career and his reputation never fully recovered after that.

Remarkably, for one who was probably the most famous American of his day, Robeson is almost a forgotten figure today. It is therefore always a welcome sight when his name and story pop up, even if it is to use him (erroneously in my view) to promote an art exhibition.

Undermining Jeremy Corbyn

Another person who fell spectacularly from grace, thanks partly to mainstream media, is Jeremy Corbyn. What is interesting in his case is how selectively he is either ignored or remembered since his demise. Most of the time, it is as though he never existed, and you won't hear or read about him in the papers or in the news, even from people in the Labour Party he once led. Forgotten is the fact that under him, the Party became the largest political party in Europe. Forgotten, that when a snap General Election was called by Theresa May in 2017, Corbyn's Labour came barely 2000 votes short of victory. Forgotten, that following that powerful showing, people within the Party itself set about undermining him in collusion with the media and other Establishment figures to such an extent that by the time of the 2019 election, so much of the public had been turned against him and the Party that they badly lost the election.

It has also been forgotten that a report commissioned by the Party (never officially published but leaked) has documented the Party officials' and MPs' machinations. A further report commissioned into the leaking of that first report has, strangely, been repeatedly delayed. In the meantime, it has been acknowledged in a single programme on the BBC that there was never any evidence of anti-Semitism by Corbyn himself; and for an authoritative summary of why the allegations of anti-Semitism were either manufactured or grossly exaggerated, one has to go to the blog of a lone campaigner, Simon Maginn, to see how and why #ItWasAScam.

And when Labour, under its new, particularly uncharismatic and apparently unprincipled leader, Keir Starmer, performed poorly (and even worse than under his predecessor) in the recent Council elections, many current MPs and pundits have resurrected Jeremy Corbyn's name for the sole purpose of blaming him for the defeat of 2019 that they themselves had engineered! The haemorrhaging of members and funds from the Party since his departure seem not to trouble them as they prepare for the 2024 General Elections.

There are many more examples of politicians and elites using the media to persuade us to do or accept things that are palpably bad for us, others and/or the planet, whether through misinformation, obfuscation or suppression: the Iraq War; the Afghan War; Palestine; Yemen; the last US President and Julian Assange being just a few examples.

This indeed recalls Shakespeare's Othello, in which our tragic hero is persuaded by the constant whispering deceit of Iago into succumbing to "the green-eyed monster," and murdering his innocent young wife. While being nowhere near as serious or consequential a case of misinformation as many, this error by the Guardian in accepting (if I am right) the misidentification of Head of A Negro as Paul Robeson is another reason for us to "beware of the mainstream media."

Red Alert
Thursday, 30 June 2022 14:08

Red Alert

Published in Poetry

Red Alert

by Steven Taylor

I’ve been anxious since the warning
My partner has brought in the window boxes
We don’t want them to kill someone
If we had a cat we’d have told him
Anything can happen now it’s gone to red
I’ve just seen a pigeon struggling, fluttering
In the wrong direction. Imagine what
It would be like if the trees were weighted
With abundance, if it was summer instead
Of winter. If Eunice was a communist
If Jeremy Corbyn was Prime Minister

000 3237478

When Jeremy The Wicked Ruled His World
Thursday, 30 June 2022 14:08

When Jeremy The Wicked Ruled His World

Published in Fiction

When Jeremy The Wicked Ruled His World

‘Stick your hands up. This is a fucking robbery!’
Two animal-masked men bounced up the steps of the tour bus with tiny pistols in their hands. Horse Mask whooshed himself down the central aisle and all the way to the very back seat. He swivelled around and poked his pistol at everyone while screaming blue murder on very jumpy tippy-toes. Polar Bear Mask stopped short and pushed his pistol right into the driver's dripping nose-hair.
‘Get the fuck up out of there! No heroes on this bus, mate. Right? No fucking heroes anymore!’
The driver fumbled up out of his seat and down the central aisle where he found a space directly across from Jeremy. But Polar Bear Mask was up his arse immediately.
‘Keep your hands in the fucking air! Keep them up!’
Horse Mask at the back was corralling people up to the middle portion of the bus around Jeremy and the driver. For the job in hand they required everyone in their seats clumped together. There wasn’t that many on the bus though. Twelve to fifteen max. If they were lucky. The task wasn't exactly Herculean.
‘Look, do this quick and no one gets hurt. Throw your wallets and any money you may have onto the floor of the central aisle and then we’re out of here and no one's brain gets splattered into a million pieces onto those nice clean side windows. Ok? Does that sound good?'
Horse from the back and Polar Bear from the front worked quickly person by person through the bus planning to meet in the middle where the job would finish and everything collected up off the floor and slammed into bags. People were co-operating for the most part. No troublemakers. Then Polar Bear reached the old man with the grey beard in the middle of the bus. A flash of recognition burst through his head like the jagged path of a buff-tailed bumble bee across a field in summer but he couldn’t quite put his finger on who it was. It was years since he followed the news.
‘All right old bean, just empty your pockets and I’m gone man and you’ll live to see and spend your old age pension.’
‘If the Tories haven’t abolished pensions by then, that is.’
Polar Bear guffawed.
‘You’re right there, dude.’
The old man took his wallet out and gave it to Polar Bear. As he moved on to the next person, the old man said, ‘Your surname wouldn’t be Browne would it?’
‘Bloody hell – he knows me Howie! He knows me!’
‘Fuck sake Pedro – now he knows my name too. You just said it. You’re a complete cockwomble.’
The old man ran his fingers through his hair and breathed through his nose.
‘Hold on, I just recognised your voice – even a generation down the line it’s still so distinctive. It's utterly uncanny. You must be William Browne’s son. I knew him quite well. We spent a lot of time together on the picket lines during the miners’ strike. I got bussed up regularly. We were good friends.’
Polar Bear lifted his pistol and pointed it into the forehead of the old man.’
‘Who are you old man? And how do you know so much about my life and times?’
‘I’m Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party. Back then I was just an activist. I was trying to help your father. I’m sorry for what happened to him later, so sorry. Is that why you're here today on our bus? The generational effects of Thatcherism?’
Horse moved up from the back and pushed the Polar Bear’s pistol off Jeremy’s face.
‘Did you hear that Pedro, he sounds like you after a few pints of a Saturday night down the club.’
Horse turned to Jeremy.
‘Hey mate, Jeremy, sorry, Jeremy your name is Jeremy, you should have a few pints with him on a Saturday evening in our local, the two of you could sort out the world by half nine before the band comes on. You’d get on famously.’
‘I’d love to do that sometime, I would. If Pedro wants me to, it’s no problem. Pedro, are you a member of your local branch of the Labour Party?’
‘A bunch of middle-class twats.’
‘Not any more Pedro. Not any more. You should take another look and here’s a copy of our manifesto. I think you’ll like it. Your Da would have loved it.’
Pedro brought the pistol back up to Jeremy’s forehead.’
‘What the fuck are you doing old bean? It’s now your job to shut the fuck up and let us do what we have to do. Capeesh?’
By now Howie Horse Mask had gathered up all the wallets into a bag and was staring at Pedro Polar Bear Mask to get the fuck out of there before anything nasty kicked at their karma.
‘Come on Pedro, let’s move man.’
‘But Jeremy knows who I am.’
‘He doesn’t know who I am, except my name, so I’m alright Jack. Let’s skedaddle.’
‘I’m not moving.’
‘He stood with your father during the miners’ strike, that’s all Pedro, he doesn’t know where the next two generations of his family live now. How could he? It’s not like before when people stayed in the same house for decades. Those days are gone forever. He won't be able to track us down in a million years. Come on, let’s move. It won't take long before the filth come blaring around the corner. I bet you one of the middle-class wankers on this bus has already pulled the emergency cord. Fucking red Tories the lot of them. Come on Pedro let's get the fuck!’
Pedro button-holed Howie up off the bus’s floor.
‘Don’t be so pessimistic. Those days can and will come back,’ said Pedro.
Jeremy stood up too. Pedro dropped Howie back onto the floor. Jeremy spoke.
‘Howie, Pedro’s right. Those days can and fucking will return. Excuse my French. The majority of the people in this country will have secure council houses for life once again. I believe in that totally. Is that the reason why you’re doing this robbery? To make the rent?’
Pedro flopped his pistol-holding hand down to his waist and slumped into the seat next to the driver, who bunched over tighter to the window to give him more room.
‘That's right Jeremy. How did you know? The landlord keeps putting up the rent.’
‘It stands to reason in this economy, son. How much do you need to clear it?’
‘Two grand.’
‘Take what money you need, no probs, from the cash you’ve collected here Pedro. Just give my activists back their wallets, bank and credit cards etc, and everything will be hunky-dory with us.’
He stood up and announced to the bus that all the money going to Pedro and Howie would be covered by his own wallet when he got back to the office and had a chance to go to the bank. He also promised he'd throw in an extra large cherry on top of all monies returned fresh from his allotment. There wasn’t much disagreement on the bus. Howie couldn’t believe his eyes or his ears. This had been their first attempt at a robbery, so they weren’t deep into any shit as of yet. They weren't being chased by any authorities. Thank God. Just in the nick of time. It turns out they might have chosen the perfect place to start and finish their crime careers. Pedro lifted his pistol again to Jeremy’s head.
‘If it wasn’t for you my Da would never have been interested in art and would never had walked over to Vincent Cough in Tesco’s when he burst in with a gun.’
‘But I couldn't be with your father, William, 24-7. That would have been impossible.’
‘Not you. I'm not blaming you exactly. I’m using a metaphor. The labour movement. You are the current embodiment of the labour movement. Because my Da was involved in the labour movement he got interested in art and literature and philosophy too. Without it he wouldn’t have developed an interest in Vermeer and he wouldn't have ran over to Vincent Cough when he was at the lowest ebb of his entire life. Vincent's job had left him. His wife had left him. His house had left him too – he got evicted. He was living in a hostel. Then in a tent. Then in a hole. Vincent Cough used to run an arts club in the local library with other union members of the pit, they worked their whole lives until Thatcher came along. If they weren’t union members they would never have dreamed about art. That’s what got him killed. Art. His love of art. When Vincent ran into Tesco’s with a gun my Da ran over to him with the Vermeer postcard he kept in his wallet at all times: The Little Street. To save him. Vincent Cough had given it to my Da the day he’d joined the arts club in the library many moons previously. Vincent was a founding member.
‘We’ve got this art so nothing can stop us now, lad, nothing,’ said Vincent to my Da, William, on his first day at the club, using a Picasso print glued to the back of a long rectangular piece of plywood as an ironing board.’
'My Da wanted to remind Vincent of his own advice. Because he’d written it down word for word on the back of the Vermeer postcard he'd always kept in his wallet. He was convinced that Vincent would listen to his own advice written on the back of a postcard. They’d known each other all their art and working lives. Surely that had to count for something, he thought.’
Jeremy reached out as best he could with a pistol on his forehead. His hand actually reached Pedro’s and attempted to hold it. Nevertheless, the force of the pistol on his forehead did not relent.
‘I’ve still got that postcard in my pocket, The Little Street, to this day, Jeremy.’
Howie moved to the back of the bus with his pistol cocked, waiting for someone to even think about moving. Pedro was fucking everything up. A few minutes ago they could have got out. But now? He didn’t let his mind go there. Quicksand everywhere.
Pedro kept it going.
‘Vincent was too far gone at that stage. He’d already shot a customer. My Da couldn’t persuade him down from the edge even with a Vermeer postcard and Vincent’s own words on the back, Jeremy. Vincent looked at it, the two of them did, in silence for a few seconds, the longest two seconds ever. He gave it back to my Da with tears streaming his face. The police rushed in. Vincent shot my Da’s face with two bullets, a security guard with one bullet, and then shot himself. You were at all the funerals Jeremy. It's coming back to me now. I remember your face. You were very kind to everyone. My Da couldn’t get a job for seven years after his pit closed. Eventually, he ended up working at Tesco’s. Family and art sustained him. Why wasn’t that enough for Vincent Cough? Why?’
Pedro dropped the gun and sat down next to the driver. He let the tears take him and took out his Da's Vermeer postcard with Vincent's quote on the back splattered with blood. No one said anything for at least three minutes.
‘Come on Pedro. We’re going to let you keep the money. We don't want it back. Howie come up here and start counting the cash. Two grand, that’s great. Take it. No one in this bus is going to report anything about what happened here today. It was just a misunderstanding between old friends. Eh Pedro? Eh Howie?’
‘Thanks Jeremy. Thanks. You’ve saved our lives,' said the Horse.
They sat in silence for another three minutes on the bus.
‘Fancy a few craft beers lads? I know a great place just around the corner. Eh?’ said Jeremy.
‘That sounds okay, doesn't it?’ Howie said to Pedro.
‘I suppose it does. But does it have to be craft fucking beer?’
He put the Vermeer away.
‘No Pedro, they sell everything in this place. No worries.’
‘Great Jeremy. I could do with a pint alright. It's thirsty work nearly fucking up your entire life but not going there right at the last minute, Penelope Pitstop style.’
‘Jeremy, did you know that the bloke who re-discovered Vermeer and brought his work to a new audience of the kings and queens of the current bourgeoisie was a bloke called Bob Burger - and he was a screaming revolutionary socialist?’
‘No, Pedro, I didn't know that at all.’
‘It's a glorious fact, isn't it? It makes me smile.’
‘Me too, Pedro. Glorious indeed,’ said Jeremy.
Everyone stood around smiling to themselves, considering this new fact of their lives aprés conceptual robbery.
The money was sorted quickly enough. They had more than adequate cash among themselves for the lads' due rent. Pedro was able to wind himself up gregarious once again, it usually never took him long though, to be honest. Just like his Da.
‘I’ll be down to my local Labour branch first thing, Jeremy. My Da would have wanted it. It's seems like the right time to start reading the news again. It's certainly been a while. I might see if I can nab a few heads for my new arts club as well. We’ll meet every two weeks at the library, if we still have one.’
‘Vote for me and it’ll be there forever Pedro. Forever. I'd never close a library. It's not in my nature and you know it.’
Pedro and Howie thus lifted Jeremy off the bus on their shoulders chanting, ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn. Oh Jeremy Corbyn,’ and thinking about actually having a few goes at those craft beers Jeremy was talking about earlier, seeing as though he was paying for it through the nose 'till bubbles came out his nostrils like.

 

The frackers are fracking off
Thursday, 30 June 2022 14:08

The frackers are fracking off

Published in Visual Arts

Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom has admitted the fracking suspension imposed by the government is a “disappointment”, as the Conservatives face escalating pressure to introduce a permanent ban. Her remarks came as environmental campaigners hailed the announcement of a moratorium on fracking in England, declaring it a victory for communities and the climate. 

She said it was clear the government “must impose this moratorium until the science changes”, but added shale gas is something the UK “will need for the next several decades”. When pressed on why a permanent ban is not being implemented by No 10, she replied: “Because this is a huge opportunity for the United Kingdom”.

However, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn yesterday dismissed the move as an election stunt. “I think it’s what’s called euphemistically a bit of greenwash,” he said. “I think it sounds like fracking would come back on the 13th of December, if they [the Conservatives] were elected back into office. “We’re quite clear, we will end fracking. We think it’s unnecessary, we think it’s pollutive of ground water systems, and is actually dangerous and has caused serious earth tremors.”

Reports taken from the Independent and The Guardian.

arise! filmpoem
Thursday, 30 June 2022 14:08

arise! filmpoem

Published in Films

Culture Matters has produced a short film, made by Carl Joyce, of the poem arise! by Paul Summers, which was sponsored by the Durham Miners' Association. You can watch the film for free on Vimeo here or on Youtube here.

The film invokes the collective and co-operative spirit of past generations of men and women who worked and struggled so hard to survive, to build their union, and to arise, organise, and fight for a better world by forming the Labour Party. It also celebrates the new spirit that has arisen in Corbyn’s Labour Party, and the rise of support for socialist solutions to the country’s growing problems of low wages, poverty, homelessness, and other signs of an unfair and corrupt system designed to benefit the many, not the few. 

Jeremy Corbyn said this about the poem:

It's wonderful to see the proud history of the Durham Miners' Gala represented in this powerful poem. Paul Summers has managed to capture the spirit of the Miners' Gala and its central place in our movement's mission to achieve 'victory for the many, and not the few’.

The film is not just a celebration of the tremendous working-class cultural heritage around mining, as expressed in the banners and the music at the Gala, but also the socialist, co-operative spirit of the women and men from mining communities that is alive and struggling today.

Martyrs of Coal

by Chris Norris

 You martyrs of coal, yours the glory
While there's still a miner alive,
Or singer to bring us the story
In which your proud legends survive.

You masters of coal, hear them calling,
Those martyrs you sent down to die,
Crushed lifeless by pit-rafters falling,
Or drowned as the waters ran high.

You martyrs, cry loud to remind us
That justice can never be done
If class-laws shall fetter and bind us
As long as the waggoners run.

You masters, you bled, starved and beat us,
You worked us to death for your gain,
You called out the troops to defeat us
And told us our strikes were in vain.

You martyrs of coal, stand beside us
As we stand today in your name
To win back the rights long denied us
And put our exploiters to shame.

And you modern masters, now hear us,
You tribe of dot-com millionaires,
Think now of their courage and fear us
When we raise the cry that was theirs.

For it's the same passion that fires us,
The zeal that gave courage its role,
And still their example inspires us,
Those martyrs of conscience and coal.

That martyr spirit has arisen recently in other current trade union struggles like the industrial action at McDonald’s, British Airways, and other employers, and in the outraged reaction to other injustices against the working class like the Grenfell tragedy. So there is footage from other campaigns in the film, showing how they are all part of our struggle for economic and political justice, for socialism in Britain and in the whole world.

And most of all the spirit of the miners has arisen in the modern Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn. Arise, resist, vote Labour, and struggle for a better world!

You can also buy a DVD of the film, which is licensed to be played anywhere. It is available here at £5 plus £1.50 p. and p., and 10% of sales proceeds will go to the Redhills Development Fund. The same applies to the poem, which is available here.

arise! filmpoem
Thursday, 30 June 2022 14:08

arise! filmpoem

Published in Books

Culture Matters has produced a short film, made by Carl Joyce, of the poem arise! by Paul Summers, sponsored by the Durham Miners' Association. You can watch the film for free on Vimeo here or on Youtube here

The film invokes the collective and co-operative spirit of past generations of men and women who worked and struggled so hard to survive, to build their union, and to arise, organise, and fight for a better world by forming the Labour Party. It also celebrates the new spirit that has arisen in Corbyn’s Labour Party, and the rise of support for socialist solutions to the country’s growing problems of low wages, poverty, homelessness, and other signs of an unfair and corrupt system designed to benefit the many, not the few.

Jeremy Corbyn said this about the poem:

It's wonderful to see the proud history of the Durham Miners' Gala represented in this powerful poem. Paul Summers has managed to capture the spirit of the Miners' Gala and its central place in our movement's mission to achieve 'victory for the many, and not the few’.

The film is not just a celebration of the tremendous working-class cultural heritage around mining, as expressed in the banners and the music at the Gala, but also the socialist, co-operative spirit of the women and men from mining communities that is alive and struggling today.

That spirit has arisen recently in other current trade union struggles like the industrial action at McDonald’s, British Airways, and other employers, and in the outraged reaction to other injustices against the working class like the Grenfell tragedy. So there is footage from other campaigns in the film, showing how they are all part of our struggle for economic and political justice, for socialism in Britain and in the whole world.

And most of all the spirit of the miners has arisen in the modern Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn. Arise, resist, vote Labour, and struggle for a better world!

The DVD is £5 plus £2 p. and p., and 10% of sales proceeds will go to the Redhills Development Fund. The same applies to the poem, which is available here.

Please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for bulk orders or if you'd prefer to pay another way.

Angels and Demons: one must subdue the other
Thursday, 30 June 2022 14:08

Angels and Demons: one must subdue the other

Published in Cultural Commentary

Sean Ledwith reviews Angels and Demons, by Tony McKenna, a collection of essays on artists, writers and politicians written from a historical materialist perspective.

The role of the individual in history has been one of the perennial debates throughout the development of Marxist theory. Marx and Engels in the nineteenth century were keen to dissociate themselves from the ‘great man view of history’ that had characterised much of bourgeois scholarship up to that point. The defining feature of historical materialism as an analytical tool in their hands was to transfer the focus of attention away from the actions and intentions of individuals, and onto the structural forces and relations of production that have combined to create a succession of modes of production across the millennia of human history.

At the same time, as revolutionary activists and not simply disinterested scholars, the founders stressed the ongoing importance of human agency and the capacity of individuals to operate with a degree of choice, albeit within the constraints of these subterranean processes. This fine balance between structure and agency is neatly encapsulated in a celebrated passage from Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte:

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.

Of course, subsequent generations of thinkers, seeking to follow the founders’ example, have not always succeeded in reproducing both elements of this conceptual tension; oscillating at times between the voluntarism associated with Sartre and others, and the subject-less paradigm constructed most intricately by Althusser.

Anyone looking for a modern attempt to recreate the dialectical balance between the individual and wider social forces in the spirit of Marx and Engels should refer to this highly readable collection of essays by Tony McKenna. The author impressively surveys the lives of a number of individuals across the fields of politics, philosophy and the arts who have had a major impact – for good or ill – on human affairs.

SL 1

Nicholas II

McKenna takes his theoretical cue from a passage in Trotsky’s seminal History of the Russian Revolution in which the character of Nicholas II is portrayed as an amalgam of the subjective and objective:

In Trotsky’s account, the personal and the political achieve a harmonious but terrible synthesis, for in the person of the last Tsar is embodied all the decadence, fatality, pettiness, self-deception, brass ignorance, denial and hopelessness of a historical tendency which has entered into an inevitable, mortal freefall. (3)

Developing the template provided by Trotsky for a distinctively Marxist approach to biography, the author persuasively argues that a nuanced version of historical materialism, eschewing both crude determinism and naïve individualism, can creatively identify the strands that link the lives of the one with the many. The personalities he discusses are not reducible to mere abstract cyphers, the personal representatives of mechanical, anonymous historical forces, but rather their art and activity, their interests and individuality, only resonates its full uniqueness and meaning in the context of the historical epoch, and the underlying social and political contradictions which set the basis for it. (6)

As a formulation of the Marxist conception of the role of the individual in history, McKenna here provides a valuable new iteration of the analyses of Marx, Trotsky and others in previous eras.

The author divides his ten subjects into the two categories alluded to in the title. This classification follows a method that in more familiar terms consists of radicals and reactionaries. In the former camp, we find Victor Hugo, Hugo Chavez, Rembrandt, Andrea Dworkin, William Blake and Jeremy Corbyn. The ‘Demons’ team is made up of Christopher Hitchens, Schopenhauer, Hillary Clinton and Trump.

It would be difficult to think of more diverse and anomalous assortment of case studies for McKenna’s thesis that historical materialism can usefully contextualise the personal with the political! However, he deploys with virtuosity a remarkable grasp of the breadth of cultural, economic and political forces at work in the lives of these personalities. Anyone interested in any of the above figures will find their understanding enhanced by McKenna‘s sophisticated delineation of how the respective subject’s ideology was shaped by the dynamics of the age.

The only slight drawback of the author’s selection is that the personalities are not analysed in chronological order. The reader for example can find herself rewinding from Hitchens in the twentieth century to Rembrandt in the seventeenth, and similarly from Dworkin in the twentieth to Blake in the eighteenth. McKenna perceptively suggests the key to explications of individual psychology from a Marxist perceptive should comprehend how major figures mediate most profoundly the most significant contradictions within the capitalist order at different stages in its development. (15)

It might have been preferable, therefore, if each study more evidently reflected a step-change in the operations of the rule of capital from the dawn of the bourgeois revolutions to today’s seemingly remorseless neoliberal hegemony. However, this consideration does not detract from the elegance and power of McKenna’s expositions.

The emphasis on contradictions in an individual personality is the fundamental insight that lies at the heart of McKenna’s methodology. Again, in this aspect he follows in the tradition of some of the best thinkers in the Marxist tradition. Gramsci, in his Prison Notebooks of the 1930s, drew attention to ‘contradictory consciousness’ as one of the symptoms of alienation in the mental framework of every subject living under the role of capital.

Voloshinov, in the previous decade, explored the phenomenon of ‘multi-voicedness’ and the manner in which the consciousness of an individual can simultaneously contain ideological input from a range of sources, some of which may be conflicting. Likewise, the author here contends that the key to unlocking human personality is the way in which the contradictions of the age are manifested in the unique experience of every person. The result of this methodology is a sequence of portraits that fulfils Gramsci’s guidance on how biography in the tradition of historical materialism can produce insights that are superior to its bourgeois counterpart:

They never let you have an immediate, direct, animated sense of the lives of Tom, Dick and Harry. If you are not able to understand real individuals, you are not able to understand what is universal and general.

SL2

Rembrandt, Self-portrait at the age of 63

In the moving chapter on Rembrandt, McKenna elucidates how the painter’s sublime genius lay in his ability to tune into the contradictions of the world’s first bourgeois revolution as the newly born Dutch capitalist state threw off the yoke of the Spanish Empire at the turn of the seventeenth century:

For he channelled this dualism in an art which attains a new depth of individuality and interority, illuminating the flickering shadows of the soul, while at the same time possessing the kind of aesthetic integrity which was able to express the suffering of an age, allowing it to bleed into the backdrop of his paintings. (96)

450px Rembrandt Rembrandt and Saskia in the Scene of the Prodigal Son Google Art Project

McKenna recounts how many of Rembrandt’s portraits of the 1630s, such as ‘The Prodigal Son in the Brothel’, are of the moneyed bourgeoisie whose ‘exuberant political freedoms' (89) are expressed in the lavish and salubrious scenes depicted around the characters. The optimism and self-confidence of an embryonic ruling class that is taking a torch to the decaying carcass of feudalism is almost palpable.

1024px Rembrandt The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp

The greatness of Rembrandt, however, is that the artist notes, amid the surging power of the Dutch bourgeoisie, a sense that its hegemony will be built not on the abolition of exploitation but only a new type of exploitation. Describing the iconic ‘Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicholas Tulp’, McKenna draws our attention to the attitude of the scientists looking down on the corpse in front of them: They see him only in terms of an object like any other, to be appropriated, to be carved up; as a means to enhance their own material and intellectual powers. (93)

This picture is conventionally interpreted as representing the humanism and idealism of the scientific revolution of the early modern age. With an appropriate lightness of touch, however, McKenna deploys a Marxist lens to re-imagine it as a portent of the calculated disinterest the capitalist class retains for the millions of subjects who labour in its name.

At no point does the author’s analysis relapse into a crude materialism that might see Rembrandt as the artist of the Dutch bourgeois revolution and little else. McKenna does not lose sight of the fact that the reason the artist remains phenomenally popular is that he addresses anxieties and concerns that continue to exercise the human imagination, and that probably always will.

Rembrandt bue squartato 1655 01

For example, ‘The Slaughtered Ox’ from 1643 contains an enigmatic power that seemingly defies rational explanation. The image of a butchered bovine cadaver in a basement at first would appear to be an unlikely source of fascination. For McKenna, however, the painting brutally reminds us of the material reality of our existence as transient beings in a universe ultimately beyond our comprehension:

Rembrandt is making us aware that, ultimately, this is our destiny – that, each day, life crucifies us that little bit more and that little more slowly, through the sense of loss and suffering we must inevitably accumulate. (102)

If Rembrandt is rightly one of the eponymous angels of the collection, Christopher Hitchens as one of the most famous critics and polemicist of our age falls into the less desirable category. His championing of the calamitous Bush-Blair inspired invasion of Iraq in 2003 is probably the main reason Hitchens was suitably dubbed as a fallen angel in the eyes of many on the radical left. McKenna ultimately concurs with this damning verdict but does not elide over Hitchens’ undoubted qualities as a writer and is generous in acknowledging his subject’s stoical battle against cancer in the twilight of his life:

Hitchens had a wonderful facility with words. His literary flair surpasses that of his idol Orwell, in my view, in terms of its fluidity and grace…even in his later years, the increasingly rotund figure of this patrician journalist was in possession of a certain stoutly courage. (71-72)

Hitchens’ espousal of Western imperialism in his last decade can appear bizarrely incongruous in the light of his previous association with the revolutionary left. As McKenna observes, the most obvious explanation would be that ‘the allure of money and privilege no doubt played its part’. (70) But the author contends that a more productive line of thought is to trace the conflict that raged within Hitchens’ persona throughout his life between two contradictory impulses. On the one hand, the desire to shock the establishment, and on the other, the need to be part of it. In McKenna’s words:

The need to have it both ways, so to say-to be able to indulge the exhilarating frisson and enjoy the moral vitality which are the remits of the freedom-fighter, while simultaneously partaking in the silky confidences of the most famous and powerful; this was the central, elemental contradiction which fissured across Hitchens’ existence. (82)

Perhaps the moral of this particular life is that although contradictions are the essence of the human condition, they do not always play out without resolution. The aftermath of the 9/11 attacks forced Hitchens to decide whether he would decisively take the side of the oppressed or the oppressor. His total failure to comprehend Islamism as a distorted form of resistance to imperial hegemony led him into the welcoming arms of Cheney, Wolfowitz and the rest of the neocon cabal in Washington.

McKenna’s reflective adoption of a Marxist approach to psychology here highlights the advantage of not focusing on our interiority alone; but also perceiving how by events in the external world can force us to confront the contradictions within ourselves. The fiery fiasco of the ‘War on Terror’ forced Hitchens to face the paradoxes of his own existence – and he was found wanting.

Jeremy Corbyn Leader of the Labour Party UK

McKenna’s closing chapter is a timely assessment of the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. As the Tory government stumbles through the Brexit morass, the prospect of the Labour Leader walking through the black door of Number 10 is tantalisingly real. In the neatly titled ‘Chronicle of a Coup Foretold’ McKenna predicts that such a scenario would trigger a major crisis of the British state, in which the aspirations of millions of working-class people, long neglected by a venal elite, would be pitched against the centuries-old conservatism of the ruling class. Unlike the previous profiles in the book, McKenna does not detect any deep contradictions in Corbyn’s personality, and the author’s focus is more on a looming rupture in the wider body politic. In fact, it is fair to say that the Labour leader’s apparent lack of hidden agendas – conscious or otherwise – is the root of his remarkable appeal. Corbyn’s lack of complexity and personal ambition is a refreshing change from his recent predecessors in the post:

Jeremy Corbyn is a kind, decent, reasonable man who evinces a sense of faint distaste and aloofness to the more savage and Machiavellian manoeuvrings, which are so much a part of modern politics. (238)

Nevertheless, McKenna shrewdly cautions us that these qualities are eerily reminiscent of Salvador Allende, Chile’s doomed socialist Prime Minister of the early 1970s. Allende believed decency and reason would be enough to restrain the dark forces of military intervention that stood at his side in the last weeks of his administration. By the time he realised they were actually his deadliest enemies, it was too late. If Corbyn is not to suffer a similar fate in the future, the whole labour movement in the UK will need to realise there can be no common ground in the event of a clash between the ‘Angels and Demons’ – one must subdue the other.

Angels and Demons is available here.

Durham Miners' Gala 2018
Thursday, 30 June 2022 14:08

Durham Miners' Gala 2018

Published in Poetry

Gala Day, Durham Miners

by Jane Burn

At eight-fifteen, the band stands up in regimented lines.
July, before the schools break – the morning lull broken
by the stray parp of tuning notes, loud and sudden
through nets ghosting open windows. It’s a signal
to get up, throw cardigans over nighties, join the exodus
of neighbours slopping feet in slippers, scratching bed hair.
Slovenliness forgiven, this once – right now it means more
to be outside, listening to them play.

CJ1 5206   CJ1 5214

CJ1 5253  CJ1 5260

Dorothy – bitched about me once, with them at thirty-one,
but if I cannot forgive her that, what use as a person am I?
Her Arthur, taken by cancer in less than a year. Marie, last
of three sisters; a street full of women outliving their men.
Sleepy-eyed kids, hurried out of their beds to hear the opening
bars of Abide With Me, see The Banner, tassels of gold and red;
For The People By The People. Your history, I tell my sons.
Your village, see? This is why we don’t forget.

CJ1 5268   CJ1 5333

 

CJ1 5565   CJ1 5589

We were children when we lived through the last of the mines.
Thatcher – strikes, scabs, picket lines; Arthur Scargill
in Barnsley. The Dearne Valley villages – always the backdrop
of pit-heads, men in donkey jackets, orange panels bright among
allotment leeks. The scent of sparking fires – the sharp, oily smell;
powder, staining everything it touched – grimy on the coal man’s
hessian skin, sooting the sacks on his flat-bed truck. Dad, quitting
before it got too late, did not want the blackness settling on his lungs.

CJ1 5801   CJ1 5808

CJ1 5946   CJ1 5947

Wath Main, Wombwell, Hickleton, Manvers – given to nature now,
flat under birds. Nineteen eighty-four. The corridors of our local comp
overrun with cameras from the BBC – kids sticking two fingers up
for the telly. Tracy, from my year at school is missing and so are
her brothers; Darren and Paul have been killed, while scavenging
for slack on Goldthorpe coal-tips. The funeral – playing the schools
dented brass, my tongue dried up on the mouthpiece, metallic
with tears and tin. Brothers don’t die – they do not die beneath

embankments of smother and soot before they are sixteen, bursting
their lungs under slag; their fathers fingers digging through the scree,
nails split, skin torn. Blood and choke. The drummer strikes the skin
of the bass drum. A sonic boom, as if Gabriel himself is smiting
the roofs of our estate. The troop moves down the hill – people,
magnetised like iron filings follow the flag; dwindling to a last
earful of airborne notes, clear as crystal tears. Left behind,
we swallow the thick in our throats; faces lit by zealot’s blaze.

There is nothing left. Stranded here and there a winding mechanism;
giant upturned bogie wheels framed against the sky. Beamish tunnel
to gawp at – to remind us of kiddies pulling up half-ton coal tubs
in the dark; their lives lit by the whim of a candle's flame.   

Gala Day, Durham Miners was previously published by Proletarian Poetry and is part of Jane's pamphlet, Fat Around The Middle.

All photos of Gala Day 2018 by Carl Joyce, www.carljoyce.com

Freedom for Humanity
Thursday, 30 June 2022 14:08

Art, politics, anti-semitism and anti-Corbynism

Published in Visual Arts

Nick Wright discusses, art, anti-semitism, and anti-Corbynism.

Labour is weathering a co-ordinated campaign which combines criticism of Corbyn's policies and persona with an intensified drive to brand any criticism of the murderous policies pursued by Israel's rulers with anti-semitism.

I was once branded an antisemite. It was the during the Thatcher/Major years and I was editing the newspaper of the trade union for executive civil servants. Our cartoonist, the brilliant, award winning Frank Boyle, drew a series of strips which called out the Tories for their dogma-driven privatisation policies. One depicted the Cabinet as bloodthirsty pirates of a distinctly unsavoury disposition — the chief among them a swarthy, hook-nosed, carbuncled cutlass-wielding figure in a striped vest, battered pirate hat.

A flood of letters arrived, a good proportion using strikingly similar phrases, rather obviously co-ordinated and some clearly unfamiliar with the actual cartoon and more generally concerned at the left-wing character of the union's policies. To my surprise I was accused of publishing anti-semitic images. In discussion with one or two of the more reasonable of my correspondents we were able to agree that the conflation of stereotypical Cornish pirates with the anti-semitic depiction of Jews was too far fetched to be taken as evidence of intent. But it was a useful illustration of how an image can possess an ideological power that transcends both literal meaning and the intent of its creator, the context of its creation and thus have an impact on an audience already sensitised by their own ideological position and their life experiences.

This was a useful experience in my next job working at the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight.

It is in the light of this experience and after several decades of anti racist and anti fascist activity that I approach the question of the now-destroyed East End mural that is the pivot on which the latest assault on Jeremy Corbyn turns.

Less I am accused of gratuitously circulated anti-semitic images I can claim that in four years at art school; two years specialist art teacher training and three years of post graduate research as an art historian that I encountered many medieval, Renaissance and modern art and design objects imbued with anti-semitic notions. These artefacts possessed a wide currency in the times in which they were created but nevertheless remain the object of critical scrutiny. We must bring the same approach to the examination of the mural depicted here. Called Freedom for Humanity it was painted by the Los Angeles-based graffiti artist Kalen Ockerman, also known also as Mear One.

We can describe the formal features of the mural thus: Against an apocalyptic background that includes rather ambiguously crafted elements of industrial production and power generation sit six elderly business-suited men playing what appears to be Monopoly. The surface on which they are playing rests on the backs of crouching, naked, possibly androgynous figures and includes a pile of currency notes and tokens that signify industrial production, oil extraction, property ownership and, perhaps, in the case of a miniature Statue of Liberty, political values.

To the left foreground a man is carrying a poster placard that proclaims 'The New World Order is the enemy of humanity' while his left arm is raised to a clenched fist. To the right a melancholy mother holds her baby.

Rising above the central group is a pyramid and all-seeing eye, sometimes taken to signify Freemasonry and more universally recognised as an element in the design of US dollar bills.

It is conventional to catalogue the formal features of a work and the processes used. We can see that the artist works in a contemporary medium using commercially available saturated spray colours. We know from basic research and observation that the artist is proficient in this medium and a high degree of preparatory work and a measure of expert draughtsmanship and technical expertise is evident. This conclusion is supported by a film, available on social media, which shows the process underway.

So, having described the content how do we analyse its meaning?

We can of course, go with our immediate, subjective impressions. This clearly is what many people have done. Judging by the social media discussion some have even ventured an opinion without actually looking closely at the work. But to understand more fully we need to ask what is the painting about.

One way is to take its title. Freedom for humanity has a clear and transparent political meaning In a game of chance and skill six white men dispose of power and wealth while the oppressed and the propertyless support the structures which permit this disparity of means.

But this is not enough. Context is all important. As it is public art we already know something about the audience, we know it was made in 2012 and destroyed by the local authority. We know who made it. We know from the BBC report at the time that the artist said his artwork was not targeting Jews.

We need to locate the mural in relation to other work, including that of the artist himself, the local and global politics of its production and display and we need to understand how the public discourse around the work was originally constructed and how it has been reconstructed in the present moment.

This takes us to the contested meaning of the painting and the significance of the central group. The Times on 24 March this year reported that Jeremy Corbyn has been forced to apologise after initially defending his apparent support for “a mural depicting Jewish bankers playing Monopoly on the backs of the poor.”

The day before The Guardian had said the that mural pictured several “apparently Jewish bankers” playing a game of Monopoly. The Guardian was on the same wavelength as the Daily Telegraph which reported that Jeremy Corbyn had questioned a London council’s decision to destroy an antisemitic mural “which depicted a group of Jewish bankers counting money on the backs of ethnic minorities.”

A more careful, or perhaps better informed Jewish Chronicle was better informed about the identities of the six. It said the 'controversial' artwork depicted a group of businessmen and bankers sitting around a Monopoly-style board and counting money. 

At the time, in 2012, there was relatively limited coverage of the mural's destruction. Reportedly, on Facebook, the backbench MP Jeremy Corbyn had suggested that the artist was in good company. “Rockefeller destroyed Diego Rivera mural because it includes a picture of Lenin” he said. A Labour spokesman at that point claimed Corbyn was standing up for free speech.

It is unclear whether Corbyn – who is fluent in Spanish and very well-informed about Latin American history, politics and culture — was mobilising his pre-existing cultural knowledge or if he knew something of the mural's content. However, the connection here artistic freedom and Rockefeller, who is one of the (non Jewish) figures depicted in the East End mural.

In 1933 the Mexican communist painter Diego Rivera was commissioned to paint frescos on the lobby of the Rockefeller building in New York. He titled them The Frontier of Ethical Evolution and The Frontier of Material Development, representing capitalism and socialism. When the patron, Nelson Rockefeller, pressed Rivera to remove images of Lenin and a Soviet May Day scene Rivera refused and the mural was painted over. Rivera recreated the artwork in Mexico as Man, Controller of the Universe.

NW Man at the Crossroads Rivera

There is little critical comparison between Rivera's work and the contemporary mural. Working in plaster and more translucent media Rivera deployed a rich and subtle colour palette, complex imagery, a vast cast of characters and drew upon a rich heritage of political understanding which articulated popular and revolutionary currents of thought.

The technical differences in production are clear enough. Both are public art, both have an avowedly political content, both are didactic. However in scope and sophistication the works could not be more dissimilar.

Given the highly politicised context of the present controversy this gives us a handle on the kind of criteria we must apply in evaluating Ockerman's work

Two immediate issues arise. Firstly, are the bankers and business men all or predominately Jewish? Secondly, in the light of the answer to this question is the depiction of the characters anti-semitic?

To quote Ockerman: “I came to paint a mural that depicted the elite banker cartel known as the Rothschilds, Rockefellers, Morgans, the ruling class elite few, the Wizards of Oz. They would be playing a board game of monopoly on the backs of the working class. The symbol of the Free Mason Pyramid rises behind this group and behind that is a polluted world of coal burning and nuclear reactors. I was creating this piece to inspire critical thought and spark conversation.”

We have to take him at his word. The problem is that the iconography draws on a very restricted set of references and these references are, in themselves, problematic. Set aside the passivity and subordination with which the oppressed are depicted. Look instead at the central figures who are depicted as distinctive types, painted with a clear reference, if distorted, to real historical protagonists.

Even if only two of these six bourgeois, Warburg and Rothschild, are Jewish we still need to make a judgement about the character and currency of their depiction. The draughtsmanship clearly exaggerates the distinctive features of all six men. The problem is that exaggerated depictions of Jews are created, disseminated and understood in a historically defined context that includes a powerful, even dominant, discourse that draws upon the long traditions of antisemitism embedded in the dominant ideology and expressed, over the centuries, in the dominant visual culture, including both traditional art forms, religion, politics, popular culture and mass media.

That these traditions are currently more diffused than hitherto and that today, for example, Islamaphobic narratives are more virulent and produce more dramatically dangerous consequences than does contemporary anti semitism is no justification for a lack of vigilance.

In truth, the subterranean narratives around notions of the Illuminati, Freemasonry and bourgeois conspiracies cannot, in much popular imagination, be disentangled from deeply suspect discourses in which alien, Semitic and covert elites are the controlling forces in our lives.

Such notions run exactly counter to the kind of materialist analysis that take the real and existing features of contemporary class society and seek to reveal their workings. State monopoly capitalism operates at vastly more profound levels and bourgeois hegemony is maintained by vastly greater systems of ideological domination than are illuminated by Ockerman's mural or accessible through his restricted political imagination.

Inevitably, this mural was going to understood in the context of existing traditions. If Jeremy Corbyn had not risen to his present stature this mural would have been long forgotten.

The truth is that neither its formal construction nor its artistry, neither its political language nor its iconography is articulated with sufficient levels of complexity and sophistication. It simply collapses, without sufficient theoretical or ideological underpinnings, into an inversion of its creator's avowed purpose.

This is bad art and worse politics.

When, five years later the long-forgotten facts around this painting's destruction are weaponised in a new coup against Labour's popular realignment, we can only marvel that the theoretical poverty of these latter-day art critics is matched by their political hypocrisy.

I am reluctant to criticise Jeremy Corbyn who is the most transparently honest and principled leader of the Labour Party in decades. It is true that his 2012 defence of artistic freedom might have been expressed with more circumspection and today a more robust defence might counter some of his more unprincipled opponents. But the unceasing assault on him is so obviously manufactured that I suspect its effect has a limit and that itself has more traction with a metropolitan and political elite than with broader masses of people.

It is possible to discover in the mountains of social media data instances of clear anti semitic intent. More common are maladroit formulations, poorly constructed arguments, ignorant and lazy conflations of terms that are logically distinct along with arguments that reflect various levels of conscious and unconscious bias. The diligent will find examples of trolling that have their origins in the crude public language in some sectors as well as provocations of even more dubious origin.

We can be sure that one agency or another is searching for any clumsy formulation or ill advised comment that can be weaponised against Labour. That no such diligence is directed at the Tory party or the media that serves bourgeois interest is clear enough indication that this is a project with a clear purpose.

The many hundreds of thousands of Labour folk know this. Many millions more sense the artifice entailed in this campaign. It is instructive that in working class Britain, which by and large is not deeply involved in this controversy, popular sentiment senses that Corbyn is the target. How else to account for the reports that crowds at boxing contests and football matches are breaking out in chants of Jeremy Corbyn's name.

Already the spurt in Labour (and Momentum) membership is taken by more intransigent zionist opinion a proof itself of a wide currency of anti semitism. Similarly, Jeremy Corbyn's Seder night feast with a group of irreverent young Jews in his constituency itself is weaponised. Associating with the wrong kind of Jews is also anti semitic it seems.

The association of Blairite MPs with the campaign being waged by the Board of Deputies (and the more obviously Conservative-linked Jewish Leadership Council) will do them no favours with Labour supporters who know from their own experience just how limited is the purchase of anti semitic ideas in the party and the broader labour movement. Interestingly, the non zionist Jewish Voice for Labour is experiencing a new wave of support.

We cannot disentangle the alarm that the Zionist establishment feels at the success of the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions movement from this current offensive. Corbyn is the target because he maintains his principled solidarity with the Palestinian cause and remains opposed to the imperial war plans that pivot on Israel's strategy towards it's neighbouring states.

The real danger is that in conflating, for narrowly sectarian political purpose, what is a fairly widely diffused currency of anti semitic ideas with the more poisonous political anti-semitism that exists as a conscious ideology this campaign runs a real danger of reinforcing the latter.

It is not enough to point out that the most reactionary trends in Zionism act on the basis that the existence of anti semitism is the principal validation of their political project. Anti-semitism needs to be confronted at every level — not as a privileged category of political action — but as part of a conscious movement to assert the universality of human values.

Calling out the crude conflation of Zionism with Jewish identity is the basic building block of any project to combat antisemitism. That this necessarily entails a principled criticism of its mirror image in the most virulently reactionary trends in present-day Zionism is a powerful demonstration of dialectical truth.

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