Wednesday, August 26, 2015


Over recent weeks, there have been an increasing number of allegations and exposés of Jeremy Corbyn's associations with antisemites. Nobody serious is suggesting that Corbyn is the least bit antisemitic. The issue, rather, is why he keeps sharing platforms and associating with antisemites, and whether his responses (and those of his supporters) indicate any understanding of why contemporary antisemitism might be problematic. (For two of the better statements of the issue, see David Hirsh and Stephen Daisley. For more general issues, follow Martin's links.)

This post looks at just one of the allegations. Back in July, Lawrence Alexander noticed that Corbyn had spoken for the Citizen's Electoral Council (CEC), the Australian affiliate of the LaRouche network.

This allegation was subsequently taken up by the Daily Mail and Louise Mensch, and is the first of the three key points made in Mensch's important post about Corbyn's antisemitic associations.

What is the LaRouche network?

I'll try to keep this brief, but here is the basic story of you don't know about Lyndon LaRouche and his followers. LaRouche, born in the US in 1922, was a Trotskyist from the 1940s, involved in the American SWP (a totally different party from the British SWP). He left the SWP as a follower of British Trotskyist leader Gerry Healy (best known for sexual abuse of female party members and being Vanessa Redgrave's guru) before setting off on his own, increasingly bizarre, course from the 1960s. His m.o., learnt from the Communist Party, was the creation of anodyne-seeming front organisations to suck in gullible punters.

From the 1970s, he increasingly deployed the classic techniques of religious cults to enforce discipline in the party, including micro-management of party members' sex lives. From 1974, the movement began to cultivate links with far right libertarians and fascists, including the Ku Klux Klan and the Liberty Lobby, and increasingly emphasised the evils of "Zionism" rather than those of capitalism. Since then, the movement has repeatedly featured in lawsuits and criminal cases for its strange cult practices.

Hallmarks of the current LaRouche movement include denial of climate change, 9/11 denialism, naked antisemitism, bizarre conspiracy theories and futurist fantasies such as a Eurasian Land Bridge and Mars colonisation: think Scientology or the Moonies with a vague dash of leftist rhetoric.

Among their obsessions is the need for a "Glass-Steagall" law separating investment and saving arms of banks, an obsession related to their wider obsession with finance capital; apparently Corbyn also supports a "Glass-Steagall" law.

Among the scandals associated with LaRouchites is the murder of British student Jeremiah Duggan. The best resources on the movement are those assembled by American anti-fascist Chip Berlet.

The Citizens' Electoral Council (CEC) is the Australian branch of the movement. Here is a 2011 briefing paper by the Australian B'nai B'rith on the CEC. The CEC was originally a far right Austrialian nationalist group, associated with the Australian League of Rights, but came under LaRouche influence in the later 1980s and then LaRouche control by the 1990s.

Although a micro-party of a few hundred members, it has managed to raise considerable funds, mainly solicited through cold-calling phonebanks staffed by cult members.

The Corbyn connection

The Corbyn connection to CEC is slight: earlier this year, along with his close associate Michael Meacher and a right-wing Tory euroskeptic councillor called Robert Oulds, who leads the Bruges Group, a right-wing pressure group advocating a pivot from Brussels to Moscow, participated in a CEC conference. His contribution was in the form of a half-hour interview with CEC's leader, conducted in London. Corbyn's bit is here (transcribed here); the whole thing is here; Meacher's bit is here. Here's the introduction to their panel. Meacher and Ouds signed a bizarre petition, circulated by the LaRouche network's European branch, the Schiller Institute, associated with the conference, calling for closer alignment with the Kremlin; Corbyn's name does not appear among the signatories. The LaRouche group regularly praise Corbyn.

Is Mensch smearing Corbyn?

Jane Carnall, in her Edinburgh Eye blog, is publishing a series of posts responding to Mensch's attacks on Corbyn. The first deals with the LaRouche connection. She argues that Corbyn wasn't to know, that CEC are a micro-party so no big deal, and that Corbyn didn't say anything offensive when interviewed by CEC, let alone anything antisemitic. I agree with that final point, but disagree on the other issues. Here is the comment I left there.

Jane, You make a strong and convincing case that Louise Mensch misrepresented what Corbyn said at the CEC event, and that taking the whole quote in context he does not posit this “choice” between IS and the US. But I think that the question of what he was doing talking to CEC at all remains. 

You say 
"there is absolutely no reason why anyone in the UK should ever have heard of CEC Australia” and add that “had Corbyn, Meacher, or Oulds looked this microparty up in Wikipedia before they were interviewed” they’d have found some weird stuff. But if a political body you’d not heard of asked for an interview, wouldn’t you quickly google? The group’s own page displays LaRouche’s name prominently, and the Google results for the page says “Proponents of the LaRouche movement fighting for peace through economic development.” 
Surely most people involved in politics would at least have heard of LaRouche? The Wikipedia page, as you say, suggests that CEC might be fascist. (Here is the version they’d have seen when the invite was made:
"The Citizens Electoral Council of Australia (CEC) is a minor nationalist[1] political party in Australia affiliated with the international LaRouche Movement, led by American political activist and conspiracy theorist[2] Lyndon LaRouche. It reported having 549 members in 2007.[3] They have been described as “far right”,[4] “fascist” and “lunar right,”[5] as well as “ideologues on the economic Left.”[6]” You say “Since 1992, CEC Australia have been affiliated with the La Rouche movement, which is described in a Washington Monthly feature in 2007 as “a vast and bizarre vanity press.”” But it’s worth noting that before LaRouche took them over, as the Wikipedia article notes, they were a product of the Australian League of Rights, basically a more conventional fascist party. So why would Corbyn associate himself with them? (And Meacher and Oulds too – but they’re not potential leaders of the opposition and therefore potential next prime ministers.) You say: “I think Corbyn, Meacher, and Oulds all agreed to be interviewed because, well: a speaking engagement is a speaking engagement, especially one that can be completed on your lunch hour (you can hear Big Ben strike one during Corbyn’s interview).” 
So would Corbyn or Meacher agree to ANY speaking engagement? Would they accept a speaking engagement with the EDL, the BNP, the Ku Klux Klan or the Jewish Defence League? I am sure that they wouldn’t. And rightly, because socialists don’t give fascists any legitimation or association. 

So, at the very least, agreeing to speak with CEC represents a total lack of due diligence from Corbyn and Meacher and their staff: poor judgement that we are right to draw critical attention to.

The only other possibility is that Corbyn and Meacher knew a bit about CEC but thought it was acceptable. That would be worrying. But it might not be totally out of the question. Meacher, along with Oulds, signed a petition circulated by the LaRouche movement associated with the conference they were beamed to which strongly advocates for Putin’s foreign policy goals in Eurasia. Oulds’ Bruges Group of extreme right-wing eurosceptic Tories has long been associated with a pro-Putin geopolitcs, and it is disturbing to see the language used by the Bruges Group and the LaRouche movement echoed by lots of people on left, including lots of Corbyn’s close supporters. Paul Canning’s blogpost here (written some time before the Mail and Louise Mensch got hold of this story) discusses this in more detail and puts the LaRouche association in context. From a left-wing, anti-fascist perspective, this is very worrying, whether or not Mensch’s other allegations hold water.

The mainstreaming of LaRouche thought

I don't know whether the failure of diligence explanation is the right one, or that Corbyn thought CEC is OK. But the bigger issue it points to is how LaRouche's ideas, which fit closely with many of the ideas circulating in the pro-Putin ideological world, are being mainstreamed.

This point is made in an excellent post by Richard Barth. Here's an extract:
the Mail‘s focus on the LaRouche movement as an obscure cult actually overlooks a more interesting point: that LaRouche is not quite a political pariah so much these days. Panos Kammenos, who heads Greece’s right-wing minority coalition partner, has spoken at LaRouche events, and there’s some cross-over appeal on the left. Back in January, I noted one well-known LaRouche group boasting of having 200 “prominent signers” on a petition... 
As I noted that the time, these “prominent” signatures were gathered despite the text’s self-evident bad faith: first, some bland comments about “cooperation” against ISIS, al-Qaeda and ebola; then, support for Russia’s opposition to “a Nazi coup” in Ukraine, and condemnation of the US and Europe’s current “suicidal geopolitical policies of the past which led to the two previous World Wars”. 
Last year, [Spencer Sunshine of] Political Research Associates noted the presence of the LaRouche movement at Occupy Wall Street. 
...The [LaRouche-connected pro-Putin group] WPF, like Putin’s Russia in general, has crossover appeal for elements both on the left and on the right, and one WPF event saw Helga Zepp-LaRouche billed alongside Noam Chomsky (who spoke by video link). The WPF has also endorsed and promoted the LaRouche petition noted above.
It seems to me that the LaRouche movement is benefiting from same kind of generalised discontent that the television station RT articulates so well, but packages so speciously. It will be interesting to see whether Corbyn’s rejection of the group prompts any kind of reaction.
Good question. 


tim b said...

Among their obsessions is the need for a "Glass-Steagall" law separating investment and saving arms of banks, an obsession related to their wider obsession with finance capital; apparently Corbyn also supports a "Glass-Steagall" law.

They seem pretty crazy in general, but an I just say that this particular 'obsession' is by no means a lunatic or fringe position. Of course, it was actually the state of US law from the 1930s until the 1990s, and many sensible people would argue that the law's repeal during the Clinton Administration paved the way for the abuses which led to the financial crisis of 2008-present day.

bob said...

You're right Tim. There's nothing cranky about supporting such a law; in fact, it might be sensible. The LaRouche obsession with it fits in to two larger obsessions. First, they have a very strange, esoteric idea of history, in which FD Roosevelt is one of the heroes (villains include "the Inter-Alpha group of Lord Jacob Rothschild" and the Mont Pelerin Society). LaRouche, who in the 1970s called FDR a fascist (as Lew Rockwell did), has since the late 1970s tried to claim he is the true inheritor of FDR's mantle. Second (and Rothschild and Mont Pelerin fit in here too), the LaRouche cult is obsessed with finance capital - an obsession that shades into antisemitism.

Corbyn's advocacy of Glass-Steagall, on the other hand, is a perfectly rational approach. I did not mean to imply that supporting it makes Corbyn cranky. It might be that his advocacy of Glass-Steagall is one reason the LaRouchites noticed Corbyn.