Witch Hunters United - Gerry Downing Speaks with Gilad Atzmon
Gerry, you were accused of Anti-Semitism. Along with thousands of other Labour Party members, you were labelled anti-Semitic and expelled from the party for expressing universalist ideas and opposing all forms of racism including Jewish racism.
Q: What is anti-Semitism?
GD: Anti-Semitism is the hatred of Jews as Jews. Full stop. Nothing else. It is not criticism of the state of Israel or Jewish institutions.
Q: Under this definition of anti-Semitism are you or your organization anti-Semitic?
GD: No. Not Gerry Downing or Ian Donovan nor any member or supporter of Socialist Fight, past or present, are in any way anti-Semitic. We are members of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and are well-known defenders of Palestinian rights and opponents of the state of Israel. There is not a single act or political stance alleged that is in any way racist or anti-Semitic except in the minds of those who want to appease the Labour Party bureaucracy of Ian McNichol. These same people also attempt to prove that they are not revolutionary socialists and agree with McNichol that Trotskyists should not be afforded any democratic rights in a throwback to the Great Purges in the USSR in the 1930s and 1940s.
Q: You are part of a radical Left group called Socialist Fight. Can you brief us shortly about this group and its principles?
GD: It is best summed up in the first point of the Where We Stand document on our website:
“We stand with Karl Marx: ‘The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves. The struggle for the emancipation of the working class means not a struggle for class privileges and monopolies but for equal rights and duties and the abolition of all class rule’ (The International Workingmen’s Association 1864, General Rules). The working class ‘cannot emancipate itself without emancipating itself from all other sphere of society and thereby emancipating all other spheres of society’ (Marx, A Contribution to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, 1843).”
Q: We met today because I learned from the British and Jewish press that Labour Against the Witch-hunt (LAW) a newly formed body, has decided to expel half of its members or more precisely, to kick out Socialist Fight from its ranks. Is that true?
GD: The ostensibly broad campaign, LAW, was launched on 21 October 2017 after professor Moshé Machover was auto-excluded, and, as the Labour Party Marxists reported, he was only “one of a long line of socialists, Corbyn supporters and defenders of Palestinian rights expelled or suspended on bogus charges of anti-Semitism”. Socialist Fight participated in the formation of LAW, through Gerry Downing and Ian Donovan and contributed to the discussion and to collection, as Socialist Fight expected to participate in LAW’s work.
Soon after the launch, one Lee Rock began a vitriolic witch hunt against us on LAW’s Facebook page, claiming we were anti-Semitic and should be expelled from LAW. The three remaining LAW Steering Committee members, Tony Greenstein, Stan Keable and Jackie Walker (Peter Firmin had resigned), duly obliged by auto-excluding us without a hearing or right to appeal, the very practice the group had been set up to overturn in the Labour party. We were instructed not to attend the next LAW meeting as we were no longer members and we were blocked from the LAW Facebook page.
We did, however, turn up early for the meeting on 2nd December with 3 supporters and, as Tony Greenstein reported, the meeting was “effectively ambushed by a small Trotskyist grouping, Socialist Fight” i.e., our band of 5 managed to persuade the meeting, some 24 at its height, to refuse to accept the undemocratic, not to say autocratic, decisions of the triumvirate. We were accepted back in and reinstated to the Facebook page by Tony Greenstein.
Q: According to the Jewish press, LAW is led by Jackie Walker and Tony Greenstein both of whom identify politically ‘as Jews.’ Both Greenstein and Walker were suspended from the Labour Party for being anti-Semitic. However, they believe that while the slur of anti-Semite is mostly delusional, on rare occasions they can decide it is real. Where do you think Greenstein/Walker set that kosher demarcation line?
GD: it is my belief that there are two key questions to understand in this. 1. the motivations of Jackie Walker and Tony Greenstein, which are slightly different and 2. The motivation of Jack Conrad, the leader of the Communist Party of Great Britain/Weekly Worker which has influence in the Labour Party Marxists, led by Stan Keable, another member of the LAW Steering Committee.
On the first point the key is found in the statement Tony Greenstein issued on March 22, 2016 made after he got a letter from the Labour Party informing him he had been suspended. He wrote the following:
“I can only assume, in the current climate of media engineered hysteria over ‘anti-Semitism’ in the Labour Party and amongst Corbyn supporters, that it is related to this. I can think of no other reason. If this is the case what is involved is a witch hunt of anti-Zionists using the cover of anti-Semitism since even the Zionist Board of Deputies of British Jews (BOD) and other Zionists have acknowledged my role in combatting Gilad Atzmon, a notorious anti-Semite who used to be associated with the Palestine solidarity movement.”
So, suspended from Labour for ‘anti-Semitism’ he (Greenstein) tried to ingratiate himself with the pro-Zionist witch hunters by pointing to his own role in witch hunting Gilad Atzmon. Today he is in a de-facto bloc with Zionist/Blairite witch hunters against Socialist Fight.
Jackie Walker is slightly different, she largely rejects the politics of identity and is more cosmopolitan than Greenstein. She also strongly champions black rights. She is repelled by the outright revolutionary politics of Socialist Fight as she revealed during the Labour Representation Committee AGM in 2012, when she verbally abused me for heckling a speaker who was defending the role of the ANC in the Marikana massacre after I had made a motion condemning them.
Jack Conrad suffered a major embarrassment at their annual Communist University when Socialist Fight exposed his narrative on the Russian Revolution, which he promotes in conjunction with the Swedish academic Lars T Lih. They put forward the revisionist theory that Lenin’s April Theses was of no particular significance, and that Kamenev, Zinoviev and Stalin were doing fine before Lenin returned in April and had only to make a slight adjustment, despite Lenin’s powerful condemnations of their capitulation to the provisional government. And then his accusation of treason against Kamenev and Zinoviev when they went public with the plans for the October insurrection, thereby putting all their lives in immediate danger.
Q: In the recent LAW meeting Greenstein and Walker reportedly said that “making a connection between the number of Jewish billionaires in the US or who is Jewish amongst the richest sections of society and imperialist support for Israel is anti-Semitic.” I guess that Walker and Greenstein believe that Jewish politics and mammon are beyond criticism. Can you tell us which political school may adhere to such a peculiar approach? Is there any Left ideology or working-class politics that excludes criticism of Jewish mammon and influence?
GD: Of course, that ideology is Zionism. I can do no better than to quote Daniel Waterman, the famous author and anti-Zionist activist. His mother, Ruth Kupferschmidt, survived the Holocaust. He wrote on the LAW Facebook page in refutation of this cowardly capitulation:
The following statement (from Tony Greenstein) therefore makes for uncomfortable reading:
“‘Making a connection between the number of Jewish billionaires in the United States or who is Jewish amongst the richest sections of society and imperialist support for Israel is anti-Semitic.’
(To which Waterman replied:) NO NO NO! We all know that there are many Jewish millionaires and billionaires in the US. We also know that many of them are involved with determining policy with respect to Israel. We even know that many of them are outspoken supporters of Israel. Why on earth is it then taboo to speak about this openly?
Yes, mentioning the power of the Jewish lobby was and remains a tactic of antisemites. But that does not make the statement, or the reality, inherently anti-Semitic. The reason why ought to be clear to anyone with half a brain but let’s just spell it out: because not all Jews are billionaires and not all Jews are Zionists or supporters of Israel.
So, why has this issue become such a point in this group? First of all we can consider quite legitimate concerns about the possibility of any discussion of ‘Jewish billionaires supporting Israel’ being interpreted as anti-Semitic, but then that is also exactly why this group was created, to defend others who are legitimately criticising Israel ‘and making comparisons to Nazi Germany’ from being accused of antisemitism.”
Q: You and your political group were expelled by Greenstein/Walker in a non-democratic manner. You were pushed out despite the fact that the democratic vote of LAW members opposed your expulsion. What can we learn from this development about the authoritarian tendencies of Greenstein and Walker? Do you believe that people of that type can present a better future for Britain’s working people?
GD: It really is shocking that the LAW Steering Committee are pursuing these utterly undemocratic and unprincipled manoeuvres against us. If we are all agreed that the way that John Lansman closed down the democratic structures of Momentum was utterly wrong and justly criticised him for that how can they do the same themselves? How can either John’s Lansman’s Momentum or the far smaller LAW group of Tony Greenstein fight to democratise the structures of the Labour Party when their own structures and practices are so undemocratic? And what kind of a new society of social and economic equality, "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" can be forged with these methods? Do what I say, don’t do what I do, as Joe Stalin and Ian McNichol hypocritically might say.
Q: What is next? I understand that on Saturday Greenstein/Walker are planning another bogus meeting in an attempt to overrule their previous defeat. How can we help you? Can we attend the meeting? Where is it?
GD: The Labour Against the Witch hunt meeting was due to be held at 12 noon on Saturday 6 January in the Calthorpe Arms, 252 Greys Inn Road, London, WC1X 8JR. Please get there by 11.30.
However, on the one hand, Tony Greenstein tells us the landlord of the Calthorpe Arms has rung him up cancelling the meeting: “There will therefore be no meeting on Saturday, the meeting is cancelled”. Stan Keable, the LAW Secretary on the other hand, tells us that a nearby alternative venue has been found and we can all come. Stan Keable: “We regret that Calthorpe Arms has cancelled our booking, but the meeting will go ahead in a nearby alternative venue. Please come to Calthorpe Arms, 252 Grays Inn Road, at 12 noon, and we will direct you to the nearby alternative venue.”
We will move a simple motion along these lines:
“We defend the right of Socialist Fight Comrades to attend and participate in the Labour Against the Witch hunt and reject the slurs of anti-Semitism directed against Socialist Fight and its two leading comrades, Gerry Downing and Ian Donovan.”