From the Vaults: Jews Against the Vietnam War

[Intro by Bob: I am pleased to publish a guest post by Michael Ezra, who more regularly publishes at Harry's Place, where he is best known for his "From the Valuts" series. This particular blast from the past obviously resonates with some of the themes we focus on here.]

This is a Guest Post by Michael Ezra

Below I enclose the full text of an undated leaflet by a group calling itself “Jews Against the War in Vietnam.” I suspect it dates from at some point between 1969 and 1972. What is interesting is that the address of the group, published at the bottom of the leaflet, is exactly the same address as that of the UK branch of Mapam, the socialist Zionist Israeli political party.


(i)                   the struggle for freedom and self-determination of the peoples of Vietnam
(ii)                 The withdrawal of foreign armed forces from Vietnam and an end to Great Power interference.
(iii)                Victory for the National Liberation Front.
“The Government of North Vietnam acknowledges the right to existence of the State of Israel and the necessity of peace in the Middle East based on the rights to self determination of all the peoples in the region”.

Declaration of Mr. Tram Ding Dung, Representative in Paris of North Vietnam, to the Chairman of the Israeli Committee for Peace in the Middle East.

WE call on the British Left to SUPPORT:


(i)                  To support negotiations between the conflicting sides, in order to achieve a just and lasting peace. Such a peace to include a solution of the tragic Arab refugee problem and to ensure secure and recognised borders for all States in the region.
TO OPPOSE Reactionary Elements on both sides.
(i)                  In Israel those demanding annexation of all territory occupied in the 1967 war.
(ii)                The Arab terrorists groups who are diverting the attention of the Arab masses from the real struggle for Socialism in their countries.


37, Broadhurst Gardens, N.W.6.


modernity said…
Sorry, I am lost here, why is it important?

I dare say, without much effort, you could find similar nonsense across the political spectrum?

Particularly on the Right.

We shouldn't forget the Tories and how they sucked up to dictatorships and the racist activities of Tory Student?

Anyone remember the Monday Club?

Idiocy and ego go hand in hand in politics, it is no surprised, the question is, what conclusion do you draw from it?
Michael Ezra said…
Hi modernity,

I do not think that the leaflet that I copied was of importance, but I do think is that the leaflet is of some interest, at least to some.

I think the relevant point was that those in the "Jews Against the Vietnam War" group almost certainly aligned themselves with Mapam, a Zionist party, albeit a socialist Zionist party. At the time this leaflet was produced it was very fashionable for those in the New Left to support the National Liberation Front (Viet Cong) in Vietnam. It was also a time to generally support national liberation movements in third world countries. Anti-imperialism was the order of the day. Slogans started to be heard such as "From Palestine to Vietnam: one enemy, one fight!" Socialist Zionists did not like such slogans, they saw Zionism as a national liberation movement and one that had a long struggle against British imperialism to win a state.

The leaflet was clearly an appeal to British leftists who supported North Vietnam and their Vietcong puppets. It highlights a quotation from a North Vietnamese representative who clearly said that "North Vietnam acknowledges the right to existence of the State of Israel." It is an aside that this statement should be of no surprise: the North Vietnamese would have just accepted the Soviet line. The purpose of this appeal was to try and ensure that British leftists who supported the Viet Cong accepted the right of the State of Israel to exist.

As to whether calling for "Victory for the National Liberation Front" was a sensible policy in the first place, I am inclined to view this as idiocy. But you are correct that nonsense is not something that the left has a monopoly. I have highlighted elsewhere the antics of certain members of the Federation of Conservative Students who wore "Hang Nelson Mandela" badges.
bob said…
I found it interesting for similar reasons - as an early attempt to stave off the way of thinking that has become common sense on the left: the idea of a global struggle for "national liberation" and against "imperialism" that sees Israel as at the heart of the imperialist enemy.
Michael Ezra said…
Possibly also of interest is a post that I wrote for Harry's Place on American Jews and the Vietnam antiwar movement. I quoted Michael Lind:

"A nationwide survey by the American Council of Education in 1966-67 revealed that the best single predictor of campus protests was a high proportion of Jewish students."

From Mark Rudd through Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman in America, with many others, anyone looking at background of many of the leaders of the antiwar movement in America will find that a striking proportion were of Jewish descent. Arguably the most famous new left activist in Europe in 1968 was Daniel Cohn-Bendit, also of Jewish descent.

I am not making this comment as some kind of "spot the Jew" game favoured by some antisemites and also by some Jews, but as an observation that could be relevant to the idea of a "Jews Against The War in Vietnam" group in the UK. I wonder if there was a secondary aim from the leaflet: to try and attract politically active left wing Jews who were not involved in Zionist politics to become involved, possibly via Mapam.
modernity said…

But surely such dodgy thinking was common in the 1960s and early 1970s?

How many academic books from that period echoed such strange thinking? I'll bet a fair few, I remember at least one history book....

Are we saying that this leaflet and the tenuous connections to Mapam are significant?

Can't see it.

Surely it indicates that it was politically fashionable to articulate such nonsense during this period/

For all we know it could have been written by spotty juveniles.

If we want to highlight idiocy and how people went with the flow, then the 1930s is a much better period to study.

How people fell over themselves to suck up to dictators, etc etc from Lloyd George to all of those creepy hero worshippers of Mussolini?

And those that did it weren't youngsters...

More recently, take Pinochet's brutal coup d'etat in 1973.

Poke around the press and media of the period and I'll bet you'll find some excusers and apologists for his murderous regime.

Even into the 1980s you could find politicians and people on the Right who fell over themselves to say a good word for Pinochet?

So what was their excuse? Not a drug filled 1960s, eh?

Etc etc
bob said…
For me, the significance of the leaflet is not its Second Campist support for North Vietnamese Stalinism (ubiquitous in the 1960s left), but the second part, the call on the British left to support a different (Zionist-compatible) position re Iz/Pal, and to oppose clerical reactionaries on both sides in Iz/Pal. This, to me, is not hugely significant, but an interesting footnote for the anoraks amongst those of us keen on tracing some of the genealogies of reactionary "anti-imperialism" and resistance to it.
bob said…
Tangentially relevant:
Waterloo Sunset said…
Second Campist support for North Vietnamese Stalinism (ubiquitous in the 1960s left)

Not entirely. A friend of mine who was around at the time recounts that one common anarchist chant was "Ho Ho, Ho Chi Minh. How many Trots have you done in?"

In terms of looking at the roots of déclassé anti-imperialism, I suspect the percentage of the left taking that position is unlikely to have been much larger than we see today.
Michael Ezra said…
Waterloo Sunset,

It was not just anarchists who chanted "Ho Ho, Ho Chi Minh. How many Trots have you done in?" as many in the New Left detested the Trotskyists. But it is true in 1945 Viet Minh death squads went on a rampage killing every Trotskyist they could lay their hands on. This included Ta Thu Thau, leader of the Fourth International in Vietnam.

In America, the Trotskyists were simply not that important in relation to others in the antiwar movement. Consider the fact that the maximum amount of members that the American SWP had since WWII was 1,690 in 1977. (Source: Max Elbaum, Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals turn to Lenin, Mao and Che (Verso, 2006), p. 262. It is true that the Trotskyists worked hard at opposing the war but they were seen as too rigid, and, in fact, out of touch with the 1960s New Left movement which was romanticising Mao, Che, Castro and Ho as opposed to Trotsky. (See Thomas Powers, The War at Home: Vietnam and the American People. 1964-1968, (Grossman Publishers, 1973)pp.91-2.
flyingrodent said…
I don't really see hat the problem is ith this leaflet myself. Take out the "Support NV" part and it's totally unobjectionable, I think.
Michael Ezra said…
Flying Rodent,

But it does call for victory to the Viet Cong. If it had not done so, I would not have bothered with the leaflet myself. That is what makes it interesting.
johng said…
Whats wrong with calling for a victory to the 'viet cong' (although viet minh was the proper term)? The only interesting thing is the attempt to treat Israel as an example of a state born in a struggle against imperialism: in other words an attempt to reverse the perception that Israel was lined up with the forces of imperialism and colonialism. This attempt has largely been dropped as today most pro-Israel propaganda aims for a right of centre constituency.
johng said…
Oh and Michael, 'ho, ho, ho chi minh, how many trots have you done in' was not chanted by people who hated trotskyists. it was chanted by people who whilst supporting the NLF against US imperialism nevertheless did not think it right to ignore his repression of other sections of the left. I really think treating Michael Ezra as some sort of expert on the left is a mistake even from a right wing point of view. He just doesn't get even the most basic things right.
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
vildechaye said…
rE: Hope you both die soon

Real gutsty, "anonymous." Got news for you. You're already dead.
johng said…
This is from Widgery who quotes an eye witness at a meeting where Chris Harman spoke on Ho Chi Minh:

He addressed the meeting with a certain lack of style but no more than one would expect and proceeded in fairly forthright terms. He dealt first with Ho Chi Minh’s contribution to the world revolutionary movement…

After a while Harman proceeded to get on to the question of Ho Chi Minh’s contribution to killing off the Trotskyist movement in North and South Vietnam. He expanded on various themes and pointed out that from the International Socialists’ point of view, though they supported fully the Vietnamese people’s struggle against American imperialism and had done a great deal practically in Britain on this theme, it was crucial to realise that Ho Chi Minh and the regime he had headed were not the answer to North Vietnam or Vietnam as a whole and what was eventually necessary was a workers’ republic which would have to get rid of the present set-up. This went almost unnoticed by the audience… Anyway, Harman finished his speech and a lady aged about 55 to 60 got up and marched to the front and said that it was absolutely outrageous that people should just sit there and vegetate when somebody had just made a totally slanderous attack on the leader of the Vietnamese Revolution who had just died. Whereupon there was thunderous applause from the 60 percent of the audience who weren’t in IS. Harman looked slightly surprised and slightly grieved and slightly pleased by the reaction to his address. Tariq Ali looked very unhappy indeed because he could see his meeting falling apart in front of him. At the back of the hall a Maoist shouted “Washington spy!” at Chris Harman, which seemed to please him further. The audience now became somewhat heated.

Taken from one of the most insightful tributes to Chris Harman (who incidently was famous for the slogan 'ho ho ho chi minh, how many trots have you done in'):
bob said…
Re JohnG: I think "victory to the VC" was the more standard line - VC being the S Vietnamese guerilla arm of the broader movement. In relation to the earlier Indo-Chinese war, the slogan would have been "victory to the VM", as that was Ho's movement which fought the French.

I am also interested in the "How many Trotskyists" chant. It would obviously fit in with a kind of Third Camp outlook that, say, Solidarity would have taken. Can anyone give instances of its use, and by whom?

-Bob, fake leftist prick
Michael Ezra said…
While johng likes to attack me, he should be ashamed of his own posts.

He says, "viet minh" was the proper term for Vietcong. No, it was not. the proper term was the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam. The Vietcong were also known by the abbreviation, NLF.

He asks, "Whats wrong with calling for a victory to the 'viet cong'"? Either johng has not heard about the 1.5million Vietnamese people who fled the country, many on whom attempted to escape on rickety boats and drowned, or he has and he does not care about them. Likewise, johng knows nothing of the executions in Vietmam post the fall of Saigon in 1975, and nothing about the "bamboo gulag." Of course, he might know about some of these things, but death and torture are for him mere details in the revolution. It is only those who he would accuse of having bourgeois morality that would bother themselves with the plight of the boat people.

johng comments on, with relation to leaflet used for my guest post, "the attempt to treat Israel as an example of a state born in a struggle against imperialism: in other words an attempt to reverse the perception that Israel was lined up with the forces of imperialism and colonialism." Perhaps johng is not aware of the actions of the Stern Gang and the Irgun who used terrorism against British interests. This included the famous bombing of the King David Hotel. Or perhaps johng is aware of some of these actions and wishes to pretend that the blowing up of the King David Hotel was somehow pro-imperialist.

johng makes the startling claim that those who used to taunt Trotskyists with the chant, "ho, ho, ho chi minh, how many trots have you done in" were not "people who hated trotskyists." I suppose next he will inform us that those who have more recently chanted, "Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas" loved Jews.
Waterloo Sunset said…
@ Bob

I've heard anarchists used to chance it. It wouldn't surprise me if the pro situs chanted similar. And research suggests that JohnG is completely right on this being a popular chant among the IS.

What's interesting there is that it suggests a very different third campist approach from the IS (to the point I suspect many of their political oppponents would have considered it 'ultraleft') at the time, then we see from the SWP on international issues today.

John, from an SWP perspective, what's the ideological reason for the different approach in the post cold war period?
Waterloo Sunset said…
@ Michael

As JohnG correctly points out, the IS were among the people who chanted that particular chant.

In other words, your analysis is wrong on this one. Unless you are arguing they weren't Trots at the time?
Michael Ezra said…
Waterloo Sunset, if some Trotskyists did chant, "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, He had all the Trots done in?" then it was because those Trots did not unconditionally support Ho Chi Minh. Max Elbaum, a leftist himself, comments [Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che,(Verso, 2006)p.51]:

"several features of Trotskyism made it unattractive for most sixties activists. First, US Trotskyism (much more than its European counterparts) was intensely hostile to the Vietnamese and other national liberation movements. The [American] SWP pilloried their leaderships for basing their strategies on long-term cross-class alliances and a two stage revolutionary process.... Trotskyist doctrine regarded such multiclass blocs or fronts - and especially theories of two-stage revolution - as Stalinist betrayals of working class interests. Going even further, SWP doctrine held that 'Communist parties with origins in the Stalinist movement were incapable of consciously leading anticapitalist revolts' and characterized Vietnamese, Chinese and other such parties as 'counter-revolutionary.' To most young activists, such positions seemed not just criticism from the sidelines, but backward and national chauvinist."

johng wants it both ways. He wants to say that it was right to call for victory for the Vietcong (who acted as puppets for Ho Chi Minh's Communists), but he also wants to argue that Trots reminded people how many Trotskyists that Ho Chi Minh's Communists had killed. It is the political equivalent of shouting "Victory to the murderer of my mother." With such warped positions, it is no wonder that Trotskyists were derided by many in the US antiwar movement. Even Tariq Ali acknowledges in his memoirs, [Street Fighting Years: An Autobiography of the Sixties(Verso, 2005), p.326]:"If I had been in Berkeley rather than Oxford I would not have joined this international."
Waterloo Sunset said…
So, would it be your view that the correct position would be the slogan "victory to Nixon" or do you take a third campist view of Vietnam?
Michael Ezra said…
Waterloo Sunset,

I am not really into slogans, I leave that to the far-left who excel in the area. However, if I were forced to choose an ideal slogan, it would have been, "Victory for the GVN." That does not mean to say that I do not have criticisms of the GVN but at least they did not go around murdering American soldiers.
donaldbane said…
johng said…
I love the way Michael Ezra thinks that we should be 'ashamed' for disagreeing with him. In the first place I'm unclear why it should be that its somehow 'confused' to support a national liberation movement whilst disagreeing with its politics. Presumably Michael Ezra does not always support all the actions of those whom he supports. So one imagines that he might have supported movements against Stalinist tyranny without always supporting the politics of those who resisted it. His arguments remind me very much of the Stalinists he claims to abhor (they would for example claim that anyone who supported resistance to Soviet occupation in Afghanistan was in some sense an Islamist). On the existence of the Stern gang etc, yes of course I'm aware that they attacked British forces. I'm also aware that the mainstream militias of the Zionist movement were not only permitted by the British, but operated alongside them in Palestinian uprisings of 1936. In other words you need more then a few soundbites to make judgements about these things.

On the origins of the slogan: I do actually think Chris Harman has some claim to it (he famously chanted it at a meeting).

Michael Ezra really does have a cheek to claim that the left deal only in slogans. The implication being that he is interested in analyses. He is not. He recycles the crudest of crude propaganda as far as I can see, and has no real interest beyond scoring points.
johng said…
oh and the trots in the US movement did NOT adopt the kind of positions being discussed here. They adopted a position which equated North Vietnam with the US as if they were in some sense equivilants. Thats why they were marginalised, and tragically, the result was that the kinds of politics that dominated the new left there were a curious kind of student vanguardism whose wierd maoist politics also had an impact on movements of the oppressed like the Panthers. In Europe it was the Trots who tended to make the running in terms of the New Left. Again, Michael, in search of handy soundbites demonstrates his almost complete ignorence of the things he claims to be an expert on.
bob said…
I love the Widgery anecdote, exemplifying how the IS were genuinely different from the rest of the 1968 left

My position on this is probably a thoroughly Third Campist one. I certainly would not have supported victory for the GVN, an authoritarian military dictatorship, or for the VC, the puppets of a Stalinist totalitarian dictatorship.

I am not altogether clear on the line the IS took. Presumably, the logic of their analysis at the time would have been "Neither Hanoi nor Saigon", i.e. the same Third Campism.

Because of the dominance of Third Worldist pseudo-"anti imperialism" among the student radicals of the time, I imagine that would not have been a popular slogan.

But as far as I can tell, the IS endorsed the VSC line, set by the IMG, which was "victory to the NLF", which clearly did resonate with the student wadicals of the time.

(Matgamna, or one of his disciples, writes, "On demonstrations in the 1960s, it was common to hear marchers chanting “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, we will fight and we will win”, in honour of the Vietnamese Stalinist who led the fight against US occupation. The best sections of the left replied with their own rhyme — Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh — how many Trots did you do in?” They were referring to the mass murder of the Vietnamese Trotskyists by Stalinist forces in 1945. Sixty years on, the massacre has largely been forgotten." Presumably he means the proto-AWL (Workers Fight, then part of IS), or does he mean the IS as a whole?)

I can see how it would be possible to actively oppose US involvement in Vietnam without supporting an NLF victory. That presumably was the line Workers Fight took.

But I cannot see how you could chant "Ho Ho, Ho Chi Minh. How many Trots have you done in?" and call for a victory for the NLF. This seems exactly as Michael says, like calling for "Victory to the murderer of my mother."

So, while I disagree with Michael's support for the South Vietnamese and Americans in the Vietnam war, and think he is wrong that the chant was a taunt at the Trots, I simply cannot understand how the IS/SWP squares the circle of combining Third Campism and Second Campism.

It also seems to me that there is a line from Cliff's honourable 1950 break with the Trotskyist movement over North Korea, to the 1968 inconsistency on Vietnam, to today's complete turn to Second Campism in its support for all and any "anti-imperialist" dictators.
bob said…
I meant to comment before on this:

The only interesting thing is the attempt to treat Israel as an example of a state born in a struggle against imperialism: in other words an attempt to reverse the perception that Israel was lined up with the forces of imperialism and colonialism. This attempt has largely been dropped as today most pro-Israel propaganda aims for a right of centre constituency.

The first part of this is exactly right: this is precisely why it is interesting. It seems odd now, because the "anti-imperialist" narrative is so dominant.

It may or may not be true that most "pro-Israel propaganda" aims to the right of centre, but that doesn't mean there is not a left-wing case against anti-Zionism (if that's not too contorted a sentence!).

There is a completely plausible alternative anti-imperialist narrative which would bring out the close relationships between Palestinian and Arab nationalism and British and other European imperialisms - such as the role of the fasa'il al-salam or of Mussolini during the 1936 uprising, or the recently released information about the bizarre British SIS spy operation against Zionism, "Operation Embarrass", or the role of British operatives in some of the early car bombing atrocities against Jews in Palestine as detailed by Mike Davis in his great book Buda's Wagon.
skidmarx said…
So, a narrative that has at the very least been redundant since the thirties? Be careful, too much contortion can cause an accident in old age.

Victory to the NLF is consistent with wanting the Vietnamese people to through out the foreign occupier without offering political support to the Vietnamese regime.
Michael Ezra said…
johng seeks to defend his earlier statement: "the attempt to treat Israel as an example of a state born in a struggle against imperialism: in other words an attempt to reverse the perception that Israel was lined up with the forces of imperialism and colonialism." When I mentioned the actions of the Irgun and the Stern Gang, he claims he knows about them. He mentions what happened in 1936 when Arabs decided to attack the British and the Yishuv. This event, 12 years earlier than the state of Israel being formed, is more relevant to him than those events in 1946-7 when parts of the Yishuv were blowing up British interests! He also ignores that in 1937 the British installed a white paper limiting Jewish immigration into Palestine. This, in effect, stopped mass immigration that could have occurred and saved European Jews from the clutches of the Nazis. This led to Ben Gurion's famous remark as WWII commenced: "We shall fight side by side with the British in our war against Hitler as if there were no White Paper, and we shall fight the White Paper as if there were no war."

If imperial Britain were assisting the Yishuv so much, johng should explain why Britain abstained at the vote at the UN to establish the state of Israel. He should also explain why the Yishuv had to rely upon arms from Czechoslovakia.

I am amused that johng accuses me of recycling propaganda when his only source for his "facts" seems to be whatever was published in Socialist Worker or spoken by a leading member of IS/SWP. He does not even read what I say. For example he states, "the trots in the US movement did NOT adopt the kind of positions being discussed here." This implies I said something to the opposite. I didn't. I quoted Max Elbaum as saying, "US Trotskyism (much more than its European counterparts) was intensely hostile to the Vietnamese and other national liberation movements." But the fact that the IS disagreed with the US SWP is not surprising, IS/SWP were always denounced by other areas of the Trotskyst left for being "state capitalists" in their view of Russia. The orthodox Trotskyist position was, of course, that Russia had become a degenerated (or deformed) workers' state. There are numerous small Trotskyist groups round the world and they all denounce each other as wrong on something or other.

IS did not have the running in the UK when it came to British Trotskyists and anti-Vietnam War movement. Tariq Ali and the IMG were far higher profile. In fact, Tariq Ali did an amusing take on Chris Harman as Nutty Shardman in his 1990 novel Redemption. Ali's character drinks cognac after cognac who ruined the weekly paper of the party to "an unreadable rag." Shardman wore steel toe-cap boots, smashed up typewriters in fits of anger and woman could not stand his presence for too long. Hilarious! I have published more on that novel here.

Michael Ezra said…
I have digressed. The Trots in the UK were not really important either. Britain did not send troops to fight in the Vietnam War. The antiwar movement of any importance, and they did not really have that much effect, was the one in the United States. If anything, and this is the thesis of Adam Garfinkle's book, Telltale Hearts: The Origins and Impact of the Vietnam Antiwar movement (St. Martin's Press, 1995), the radical antiwar activists lengthened the war. They refused to back Eugene McCarthy or Robert Kennedy who were antiwar candidates in the 1968 American Democrat race for selection to be nominated for candidate for President. They were hated themselves more than the war, they alienated white working class Democratic party campus activists, and they allowed Nixon to win in 1968. The actions of the radicals in 1968 at the Democratic Party convention ruined Humphrey's chances of winning and they even heckled him on his campaign. It is of course a counterfactual, but had Humphrey won, the war in Vietnam could well have ended earlier than it did.

This idea that the radicals did not back McCarthy or Kennedy in the 1968 primaries is endorsed by SDS radical Mark Rudd and recounted his recently published memoirs, Underground: My Life with SDS and the Weathermen, (William Morrow & Company, 2009)pp.42-3:

"Almost every SDSer spoke of the 'McKennedy'peace candidacies as a trick to 'co-opt' the energy of radical young people into working for meaningless reforms put forward by hypocritical liberals. McCarthy’s 'Clean for Gene' slogan implied to us more than a practical call to cut our hair, put on straight clothes, and campaign for a peace candidate: It was the liberal enemy trying to destroy our movement. Liberals, including Robert Kennedy, his martyred brother John, and LBJ had given us Vietnam in the first place.

"Our goal was a much more fundamental change, not just ending the war but ending the capitalist system that had caused the war. I didn’t support any candidate in 1968, nor did most other SDS members. Electoral politics was beneath our concern."

Truly pathetic.
bob said…
So, a narrative that has at the very least been redundant since the thirties? Be careful, too much contortion can cause an accident in old age.

It would of course be insane to claim that the Israeli state today was some kind of anti-imperialist entity (although people make that claim for the Iranian state today, which is equally insane). But the narrative stretches beyond the 1930s, as my examples and ME's already show.

The "anti-imperialist" narrative has become more or less universally accepted on the left, and it only makes sense if huge amounts of history are ironed out. Zionism historically was a contradictory formation, as was Arab nationalism, and retrospectively fitting it into today#s "anti-imperialist" narrative distorts the truth. Take 1936, for example (John G's example). Was this an anti-imperialist expression of an emerging national self-determination? An antisemitic pogrom? A power struggle within patriarchal Palestinian Arab society between rival clans? Part of Mussolini's fascist colonial project linked to his ambitions in Abyssinia? Or all of those?
bob said…
Victory to the NLF is consistent with wanting the Vietnamese people to [throw] out the foreign occupier without offering political support to the Vietnamese regime.

What? The NLF was an arm of the North Vietnamese regime.
flyingrodent said…
Bluntly, I'll accept criticism of those who actively supported the North Vietnamese the very fucking second that yer Michael Ezras accept total responsibility for Operation Rolling Thunder.

This will never happen, because they're full of shit. Full to the fucking brim. what you get instead is question-begging bullshit about tactics, rather than any analysis of the utility of carpet bombing of farmers.

I'll say it, if no-one else will - the victory of a bunch of pyjama-clad commies with AK-47s over a superpower was as moral and just as could be found in such a hideous, amoral bloodbath.

Fuck Michael Ezra, though, whose dreams are clearly full of the type of Vietnamese fireballs necessary for an Amercan victory. That could only have been nuclear, and don't think that never crossed Nixon or Kissinger's mind. It did, for sure, the pair of fucks they were.
flyingrodent said…
Just so that I'm understood, North Vietnam's victory was a testament to blind, crazy & insane courage and stubboness of their people. I don't care what your ideology is - if you've been carpet-bombed with napalm for a decade, after shrugging off a previous decade of imperial rule, then you win. Party poppers! You win big time.

If Michael Ezra doesn't like it, then the only logical conclusion is Fuck Micheal Ezra. He is, it must be said, a bit of a dick. I'm no better, but nobody hosts my posts.
Migreli said…
Mapam was a party that believed in "Democratic Centralism" i.e. dictatorship. It mourned Stalin on his death as "the sun of the nations". It wanted complete state control of the Israeli economy. It is natural that Mapam identify with the NV and VC.

It is amusing to see British anti-imperialists and leftists adopt the terminology and values of their chauvinistic Empire-supporting kin. Thus they use the denigrating and insulting term "Stern Gang" for the underground resistance group Lehi, an acronym for "Lohamei Herut Yisrael", the "Fighters for the Freedom of Israel". The pejorative nomenclature adopted by self-declared leftists for these Jewish anti-imperialists is a reminder of how difficult it is to free one's consciousness from the false categories and prejudices prevalent in one's social environment.

The Lehi was indeed strongly anti-imperialist, and appealed to the Arabs to make common cause with the Palestine Jews against imperialism, and achieve true liberty for all the peoples of the Middle East. The imperialists countered by fomenting and encouraging hatred and violence between Jews and Arabs, thereby weakening both sides and ensuring the failure of Zionism, which was unable to fulfill its main task - saving the Jews of Europe.

Today many on the left believe in the theory that "the Israeli tail wags the American dog". This is a failure of understanding of fundamental facts of power. It is America that coerces Israel into adopting policies that are detrimental to Israel, but that advance US plans and strategies. For all his many and serious faults, Noam Chomsky should be praised for occasionally seeing this fact.
bob said…
Thanks Migreli. I am sure I read somewhere that Lehi had Communist members. Do you know if that's correct?

Incidentally, 37 Broadhurst Gardens is Hashomer House, now HQ of Meretz UK. In the period of this leaflet, it would have been the HQ of Mapam UK. It would also, however, have been the HQ of Hashomer Hatzair UK, which predated and was presumably always bigger than the Mapam political arm. Does anyone know how many Hashomer Hatzair activists in the UK at that time would have been actively engaged in Mapam too, and whether everyone in HH even supported Mapam? My sense is that HH was more ideologically diverse than the party. In other words, I am wondering of Jews Against the War in Vietnam” was a Mapam front, or a group within HH, or even just a group that used their address for postal reasons. I am interested also in how widely the pro-soviet orientation would have been spread within HH in the diaspora
Migreli said…
Lehi had three factions, with much ideological overlap. All three were revolutionary and anti-imperialist. The nationalist wing was led by Yisrael Eldad, who was responsible for the political and publicity activities. The pragmatic wing was led by Yitzhak Shamir, who concentrated on military operations. And the leftist Marxist wing was led by Natan Yellin-Mor, who combined ideological campaigning with operations. This faction wanted the future state to have a pro-Soviet orientation, and many of its adherents considered themselves communists, though they were not necessarily party members. The ideology of the left faction has been described as National-Bolshevik, but this a reductive and unilluminating term. Among its members was Amos Kenan, who was instrumental in gaining the support of French left intellectuals such as Jean Paul Sartre. He was also one of the eyewitnesses to the events at Deir Yassin in 1948, and his account is considered reliable and accurate.

I don't know much about the precise differences within Mapam/HH in Britain. HH was a youth movement and halutz movement, which trained cadres to establish kibbutzim. But any organization based at 37 Broadhurst Gardens could not be anything other than Mapam-sponsored. The word "front" suggests that there was an attempt at disguising the affiliation of the organizers, which I don't think is correct in this case.
bob said…
Thank you very much Migreli, for that concise lesson, which was more or less exactly what I wanted to know.

Yes, "front" is probably the wrong word - I didn't mean to make that claim.
Michael Ezra said…

I am not sure it is suitable for this blog, but if you are interested in publishing it, a few years ago I spent some time in various vaults obtaining some wonderful things on the Stern Gang. If you would want a post on them, I could extract for you something from say the following article:

Gerold Frank,"The Most Hunted Man in Palestine: A dramatic interview with the Holy Land's arch terrorist, Friedman-Yellen, in which he tells why there are no holds barred against the British,"Liberty, October 12, 1946.

Let me know! (Incidentally, I disagree with Migreli that Yellin Mor was "leftist Marxist." Unless he knows anything better, the best explanation of what the Stern Gang was about is, to my knowledge, found in Joseph Heller's book, The Stern Gang: Ideology, politics and terror, 1940-1949,(Routledge, 2004).

To be fair to johng, it was me who used the term "Stern Gang" first in this thread, but I do not think there is particularly anything wrong with using the term, one that is quite common. For example, the book that I have referred to above uses that name in the title. Heller, who wrote it, was at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

I also have an article, written by Nathan Yalin-Mor and published in Israel Magazine in February 1973 entitled, "The British Called Us the Stern Gang." If he was so against the name, why would he have used it for the title of this article?
Migreli said…
"...the best explanation of what the Stern Gang was about is, to my knowledge, found in Joseph Heller's book, The Stern Gang: Ideology, politics and terror, 1940-1949,(Routledge, 2004)..."

This is a truly bad book. It is repetitive, uninformative and misleading. It tries to characterize the Lehi as an organization that was driven by precise, intellectually highly developed and bizarre ideological beliefs, and in fact coins the term National-Bolshevik to this end. It ignores the fundamental raison etre of the organization as far as the vast majority of its members were concerned, which was to establish a sovereign Jewish state and to achieve this by deploying armed force against the imperialist rulers of Eretz Yisrael.

The fact that professor Heller at the Hebrew University denigrates Jews with whom he disagrees should not surprise anyone who is familiar with that institution. It is not a good argument for adopting his pejorative terminology.

"...Nathan Yalin-Mor ... published ... "The British Called Us the Stern Gang." If he was so against the name, why would he have used it for the title of this article?"

This is a puzzling argument. Ezra deduces that because Yellin-Mor used the title "The British Called Us the Stern Gang", that meant that Yellin-Mor regarded the moniker "Stern Gang" as benign. This argument does not conform to any recognizable rules of logic, or to historical fact. The word "Gang" is undisputably derogatory in this case and British CFO propaganda coined it with that intent.
bob said…
Thanks both. Michael, I'd be more than happy to publish the Lehi vaultology. Migreli, I'd also be happy to publish a guest post on Lehi as anti-imperialists. bobfrombrockley at gmail dot com
Michael Ezra said…
Migreli, an anonymous user of the Internet, determines that Joseph Heller's book on the Stern Gang is "truly bad" and "misleading." He does not provide any evidence for this, he just makes these bold claims as fact.Rather than rely on anonymous Internet users, I prefer to consider the fact that the book was published by Routledge, a highly regarded academic publisher with a reputation to protect, and written by an academic at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a highly regarded Israeli university.

But even then, we can consider some of the reviews of the book:

Neil Caplan, in Middle East Journal Vol 51 No. 1, Winter 1997 pp.124-126 does have some criticisms of the book as any academic review of such length would be expected . But Caplan refers to Heller's "careful analysis" in the book and notes that despite the drawbacks, "Heller has produced a first-rate analysis."

Sanford Silverburg reviewed Heller's book for Domes (Digest of Middle East Studies), Vol 5, No 4, October, 1996. He states that "Heller's research efforts are impeccable" and comments that his use of sources are "impressive."

M. E. Yapp reviewed the book for Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 32, No. 3, July, 1996 pp. 190-191. Yapp notes that the book is “hard work to read” and that Heller is “unsympathetic” towards the Stern Gang but refers to the book as both a “thorough examination” and “instructive.”

Bernard Wasserstein reviewed the book for the Times Literary Supplement, June 7, 1996, pp.8-9. In this review, the criticisms by the acclaimed Oxford historian extend as follows: “several solecisms in the English translation from an inadequate adequate index and from two photographs of Sternist propaganda literature that have been printed mirror-style - an apt metaphor for the looking-glass world view of the book’s subjects.” However, Wasserstein notes that the “distinguished merit” of Heller’s book is “his delineation of the Sternist movement.”

I am sure, if necessary, that I could track down further reviews. But that should do for now.

Certainly none of these reviews suggest that the book is either “truly bad” or “misleading.” Moreover, not a single one of them criticised Heller for referring to the group as “the Stern Gang.”

On the subject of using that title, one Migreli has a particular problem with, we can consider Y.S. Brenner’s article “The ‘Stern Gang’ 1940-1948,” published in Middle Eastern Studies Volume 2, Number 1, October 1965, pp.2-30. Away from the title of the article, the first sentence reads as follows: “The ‘Fighters for the Freedom of Israel’, commonly known as the ‘Stern Gang,’ was one of three Jewish paramilitary organisations operating in Palestine during the years between World War II and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.”

Michael Ezra said…

Migreli really does not like the word “Gang” in this context: for him it is “pejorative terminology” and “undisputably [sic] derogatory.” It might be best to consider some of the actions of the “Fighters for the Freedom of Israel,” (F.F.I.). As I have it to hand, I copy below an extract from pp.22-23 of Y.S. Brenner’s article that I have referred to:

“Here are a few outstanding examples of the kind of attacks the F.F.I, carried out between the proclamation of martial law in Palestine and the day of the final withdrawal of the British forces in May 1948. On March 13, 1947, the F.F.I. destroyed two oil transport trains, one near the Arab town of Qalqilia and another in Jerusalem. On March 24, it robbed the Tel-Aviv Branch of the Discount Bank of £27,000. On March 30, it set fire to 30,000 tons of fuel oil at the Consolidated Refinery's oil storage plant near Haifa. On April 22, a train carrying army personnel was attacked near Rehovoth. On April 24, the Headquarters of the British Mobile Force in Sarona Security Zone near Tel-Aviv was destroyed. On August 8, trains were attacked near Haifa and Hederah. On September 26, the Tel-Aviv Branch of Barclays Bank was robbed of £45,000. On November 13, British army personnel off duty were attacked in Jerusalem and suffered twenty-eight casualties, in retaliation for the shooting by British forces of three school girls and one school-boy training with the F.F.I, near Ra'anana. On February 22, 1948 an all-out F.F.I, attack on British forces was carried out in Jerusalem. On February 29, 1948 twenty-five soldiers were killed and thirty-five wounded in an F.F.I, attack on a troop transport near Rehovoth. On April 28, the F.F.I, robbed the Tel-Aviv Branch of Barclay's Bank of £200,000.”

As can be seen, as well as attacking members of the British Army, these “Fighters for... Freedom” were involved in destroying trains and robbing banks. Really, how dare anyone use such derogatory language and refer to them as a “gang”?
Bob said…
I guess "gang" implies not just engaging in acts like that, but also a very small scale. Thus the Black Panthers (the American ones, not the Israeli ones) had gang-like features, but you wouldn't call them a gang because they were on too big a scale. I don't know if that's the case with Lehi.

I'm interested in the designation "National-Bolshevik" and whether that works or not for Lehi.
Michael Ezra said…

In the preface to his book, Joseph Heller thanks Professor Shlomo Avineri for bringing to his attention "the affinity between the later Lehi and Weimar's [Weimar Republic's] National Bolshevism." On p.133 he defines National Bolshevism as "a combination of radical right ideology and leftist tendencies, such as a pro-Soviet orientation, national planning and nationalisation." Elsewhere, (e.g. p.147), Heller refers to the ideology as "leftist chauvinism."

As well as being anti-British, according to Arie Perliger and Leonard Weinberg, in their article, "Jewish Self-Defence and Terrorist Groups Prior to the Establishment of the State of ISRAEL: Roots and Traditions," Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, Vol 4, No, 3 December 2003, p.107, there was a "similarity between elements of Lehi's world view and those of the Italian Fascist movement (which was admired by most members of the Lehi.)"

I do not think it is correct to try and paint the Stern Gang as leftist in orientation. They admired the IRA and, according to Colin Shindler, Lehi "compared itself to the participants in the Easter Uprising." Shindler notes that Yitzhak Shamir, when he was underground, used the name "Michael" after the Irish Republican leader Michael Collins. (See Colin Shindler, The Triumph of Military Zionism: Nationalism and the Origins of the Israeli Right,[I.B. Tauris, 2006], p.146).

Against the radical-right heritage, Heller comments (p.294) that Friedman-Yellin went on to "preach a doctrine which Stern would never have contemplated, envisioning an alliance between all the 'progressive' peoples of the Middle East who had overthrown their feudal overlords." This may sound very leftist, but in the next sentences, Heller adds "not even the Marxist left within Lehi could up to the last moment forgo the refusal to grant political rights to the Palestinian Arabs or the claim to Transjordan. Indeed, the former were altogether ignored."
Michael Ezra said…

I forgot to mention, that in the next few days or so, I shall prepare a from the vaults for you on Friedman-Yellin.
Michael Ezra said…
This discussion lead me to post a From the Vaults post on Harry's Place. It is in some ways related.
Migreli said…
"...He does not provide any evidence ..."

I've read Heller's book. It is badly written, the language stilted and clumsy, its sentiments lacking humanity or any insight or illumination. It also ignores the beliefs and desires of the mass members of the organization.

I also know, personally and closely, people who lived and fought during those terrible years, and for whom the subject is much more than a matter of academic or theoretical interest. There is no correlation between Heller's conceits and their heartfelt beliefs and feelings.

The list of reviewers who praise the book is pretty damning. Neil Caplan is an admirer of the notorious dissembler Rashid Khalidi. Sanford Silverburg is his junior collaborator. M.E. Yapp is an establishment historian, and Bernard Wasserstein started his career as a craven apologist for every anti-Jewish British policy that petty officials could concoct against the hapless Jewish refugees who arrived in Britain from Germany. The idea that being a professor at Oxford or the Hebrew University is an indicator of good judgment and understanding is absurd.

The list of Lehi activities that Ezra provides does not warrant the use of either the term "gang" or for that matter the term "terrorist". Banks were robbed to finance the acquisition of arms and equipment needed for military operations, not for personal gain. The targets of military operations were British military and security personnel, not civilians. Railroads have always been a legitimate target of military operations during war.

Lehi had three factions, and only one was leftist. Shamir and Eldad were not leftist, but they were not anti-Soviet. Yellin-Mor was pro-Soviet, and Marxist. He may not have written treatises on the theory of surplus value, or on the materialist determinants of all consciousness, but he wanted equality, and social and economic justice in a socialist society.

All Lehi factions were anti-imperialist, as was Avraham Stern. They wanted a viable Jewish state, within the borders of the historic Land of Israel; when one recalls today the deadly strategic vulnerabilty of the corridor state that Israel was after 1948, one can hardly fault them for that. They thought that population exchange with the Arab world was a viable and fair way to achieve this. They had Arab allies, in Abu Ghosh, who played an important role in the battles around Jerusalem. And the leftist and pragmatic factions understood that imperialism was a common enemy of both Jews and Arabs, and that ridding the Middle East of it would create conditions for the removal of enmity between the two peoples.
Michael Ezra said…
The problem with what Migreli has written is that he does not back up his facts with sources. Here is the fundamental issue, my main source for information on the Stern Gang (Lehi) comes from Joseph Heller's book. I said earlier in this thread, "Unless he knows anything better, the best explanation of what the Stern Gang was about is, to my knowledge, found in Joseph Heller's book." The key point is that Migreli has not mentioned a single other book that he claims is better.

Similarly, I dug up a few reviews of Heller's books. I was not selective, I dug up those I could find without too much difficulty. None of these reviews had a terribly negative opinion of Heller's book. Migreli has dismissed these reviews as he is no fan of the authors of the reviews. This would not be so bad if he mentioned a review, published in a credible journal, that I could source, that concurred with his view.

In the interim, I have sourced further reviews of Heller's book:

Mark Levene's review in The English Historical Review, Vol. 113, No. 452 (June, 1998),pp.798-800. Levene refers to the book as "an astute and useful addition" to books on Zionist revisionism.

Bruce Westrate's review in The American Historical Review, Vol. 102, No. 3 (June, 1997), p. 860. Westrate believes that the "most grievous deficiency" in the book is not enough by way of "personal stories that drew tortured souls to an equally tortured ideology" together. He also feels that the book might prove to be a "daunting" read for those uninitiated in the complexities of Zionist politics in the 1930s and 1940s. Despite this criticisms, Westrate states, "On perhaps the most critical level, Heller succeeds admirably, painstakingly chronicling even the most subtle permutations of revisionist ideology that gave rise to this obsessed splinter group, once described by Conor Cruise O'Brien as 'the margin of a margin.'" And, in his conclusion Westrate states that the book "is an important work that provides a fair and accurate analysis."

Manuela Maglio reviewed the book for Intelligence and National Security, Vol.12, No.2 (April 1997), pp.170- He calls the book "enlightening" and "an admirable attempt at the objective reconstruction of an immensely complex subject; the range of primary sources is impressive and the use of writings of Lehi's ideologists has allowed Heller to focus on the various transformations of the movement throughout ten years of struggle." In his criticisms, combined with some praise, he states that the book is "overloaded by the amount of detail to the point where it can generate confusion.... this study frequently appears difficult to follow without getting lost in a labyrinth of digression. Heller's style is undoubtely [sic] exhaustive and accurate, but also lacking in focus."

Michael Ezra said…

Jacob Abadi reviewed the book for The Journal of Conflict Studies Vol XVI, No. 2 Fall 1996, pp.135-6. Abadi has some minor criticism such as that more detail would have been useful on the responses from Italy and Germany on the attempted alliances. In general he is full of praise: "a first-rate and unbiased account of the history of the Stern Gang"; "an impressive array of primary source material"; "With consummate skill, the author describes the origins of the movement, its platform and its goals throughout the entire period"; "Heller followed the ideological development of the Stern Gang with remarkable care and sensitivity. The impact of both domestic and foreign developments on the Stern Gang are analyzed and the Gang's reaction to them are provided in details not available elsewhere. Heller presents an in -depth analysis of the views of the group's illustrious leaders. The ideas of its founders and organizing figures, such as Abraham Stern, Abba Achimeir, Yonathan Ratosh, Israel Eldad, Nathan Yellin Mor, Yitzhak Shamir and others, are carefully and meticulously analyzed." And so it goes on with the final sentence: "The author should be complimented for his achievement."

No doubt Megreli will try and dismiss all these reviews too. (None of them criticise Heller for using the term "Stern Gang" in the title). I should be interested to see if Migreli can provide me a list of hostile reviews of the book in reputable publications.

As it happens, one of Migreli's complaints, that Heller's book is badly written, is one with which I broadly concur. I feel that the book is not ordered as well as it could have been and that Heller should have paid more attention to lay out. But this complaint is not a complaint about the facts that he presents.

Migreli comments that Lehi "wanted a viable Jewish state, within the borders of the historic Land of Israel." He does not elaborate on what that he means by "historic Land of Israel." Heller does explain. On page 207 of his book he states, "The borders it required stretched 'from the sea to the desert, from the Nile to the Euphrates.'"

Migreli insists that Yellin-Mor was "Marxist" and it is implied that this is during the time he was in Lehi. No evidence is provided for this claim.

Migreli really needs to beef up his comments with some better evidence than his claim that he knows some unnamed members of the organisation, for whom he claims, their "heartfelt beliefs and feelings," are not represented by Heller.
Michael Ezra said…
I meant to add that as well as not liking the term "gang", Migreli also does not seem to like the term "terrorist" being used to describe Lehi. I think that he has forgotten that members of the organisation described themselves as terrorist. As an example, Migreli might like to read Geula Cohen's book, Woman of Violence 1943-1948: Memoirs of a Young Terrorist. Ben Hecht's "Letter to the Terrorists of Palestine", is also food for thought. Migreli does not need to inform me that Hecht was more closely aligned with Menachem Begin, as I am aware of this. The point is the label used in the title of the letter: "Terrorists", and the actions that he praises.

I also could have mentioned that in his criticisms of my earlier post, Migreli did not criticise Y.S. Brenner's credentials. This Brenner, (who should certainly not be confused with Lenni Brenner) published his article using the name "Stern Gang" in the title in Middle Eastern Studies, which is probably the pre-eminent academic journal dealing with the region.
Anonymous said…
Extremist Lehi was secular

Mark A Heller wrote against Lehi, a lot. Some sound very illogical. If his anti religion trend motivated him to insert one particular line or interpret something towards his choice of words, then that is very sad.

Extremists they were and condemn should we all.

But it should be stated , Lehi had never anything to do with religion.

Secular - ideologically and in practice. All the way

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