On Moshe Machover's Labour Party membership
Machover was investigated for antisemitism, but in the course of the investigation it was noticed the leaflet was published by a group ("Labour Party Marxists" (LPM) - a brand used by the Communist Party of Great Britain (Provisional Central Committee), better known for their newspaper the Weekly Worker) deemed incompatible with Labour Party membership.
After four weeks, the party concluded that he did not support these organisations in a way that would lead to automatic suspension:
The Party remains of the view that any reasonable person looking at the evidence available in public (which includes at least one video of you speaking at an event sponsored by CPGB and LPM, 44 articles published with your permission by CPGB’s own publication and primary form of campaigning, the Weekly Worker and 17 videos of you speaking published on CPGB’s website as of 6 October 2017) would conclude that you have given support to at least one, if not both, of these organisations over a period of ten years including while you were a member of the Labour Party. Such support is incompatible with Labour Party membership, so thank you for clarifying that this was not your intention to provide such support.
Below here I have embedded a Storify including my comments at the time of the suspension and links around the reinstatement. First, just briefly, a few thoughts on the case.
Grounds for expulsion?At the time, the formal grounds for Machover's expulsion was his "involvement and support for both" LPM and the CPGB(PCC). (I think "expulsion" is the right term, by the way; the wording in the letter to him was "ineligible to remain a member.. and have been removed from the national membership system [and] no longer entitled to attend local Labour Party meetings".) The letter did not mention his involvement with the Communist Platform of Left Unity, which I think would fall into a similar category.
Here is Machover's response to his expulsion. Items 8-12 directly address the grounds for his automatic expulsion, and, in my view, are compelling. Machover says he is not a member of LPM or CPGB(PCC), and there is no reason to doubt this, and there is really no evidence that he has "supported" them in any substantive way that is contradictory to Labour Party membership.
The Labour Party has always had Marxist members, and has a strong tradition of political pluralism that has enabled Poale Zion (the forerunner of the Jewish Labour Movement) to sit alongside Marxists in the party. And that's a good thing, in my view. (Read this fascinating Labour Party Marxist article on that history.)
If the CPGB(PCC) and its paper the Weekly Worker are incompatible with party membership, why is there not equal concern with the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) and its paper the Morning Star? Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is just one among many in Labour who has written - and fund-raised - for the Star.
We know that key members of Corbyn's inner circle are very recent CPB members (see my previous post on Straight Left). Andrew Murray joined Labour from the CPB a year ago. Murray, who, months before that, was alleged to be meeting as part of Corbyn's inner circle to plot party policy. Murray who, in late 2015, on being asked whether he would join the Labour Party, said this:
“All my children are in the Labour party,” he says. “All four. One has been in the Labour party a long time; the other three are all there as a result of Jeremy’s surge. But, no: I’m a member of the Communist party. That’s where I am.”
We restate our opposition to the existence of this rulebook clause, and its usage to justify summary expulsions, including in this case. But we have no sympathy with the leaflet stunt, and no desire to defend it as an exercise of democratic rights.However, I also suspect this bureaucratic approach was used in this case precisely to avoid having to deal with the real accusation: of antisemitism.
Is the antisemitism still being investigated?So, Machover was expelled in the course of being investigated for antisemitism, but the investigation didn't continue as he was expelled. This was confirmed in a 5 October letter to Machover quoted here:
These allegations are not subject to an investigation, as you are not currently a member of the Labour Party.My question now, then, now Machover is allowed back in, will the investigation resume?
But was it antisemitic?In my Storify (below), I set out what was wrong with Machover's article: (a) the dishonest way it deals with historical sources in order to portray "Zionism" (conceived as a monolithic entity) and Nazism as bedfellows, and (b) the conspiracist claim that "The whole campaign of equating opposition to Zionism with antiSemitism has, in fact, been carefully orchestrated with the help of the Israeli government and the far right in the United States." Marlon Solomon adds more in this thread, but these are the key ones.
The Nazi/Zionist thing. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, mentioned in the expulsion letter, states that: "Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could... include, but are not limited to:... Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis." But that isn't what Machover did.
David Hirsh points out that
Even the rather hollow Chakrabarti Inquiry report makes clear that Nazi analogies and talk about Hitler in relation to the Israel/Palestine conflict are ‘incendiary’, ‘intended to be incendiary’, ‘bring the Party into disrepute’ and ‘undermine the cause of peace’.I agree Machover is veering into that territory, but I don't think Machover is a straightforward case of equating Zionism with Nazism. As the IHRA working definition makes clear, "taking into account the overall context" is vital in determining if a statement like this is antisemitic. I don't think the IHRA definition is sufficient for ruling this antisemitic.
The conspiracy thing is also in a grey area. It violates the basic principles of anti-racism to say that charges of racism are orchestrated and in bad faith. But Machover avoids explicitly saying that all charges are false, and limits his claim to the supposed campaign of equating anti-Zionism with anti-Jewish racism. He also avoids putting Israel at the centre of the conspiracy: he says "orchestrated with the help of".
My conclusion, then, is that really there are no clearcut grounds for expelling Machover for antisemitism. But watching out antisemites on social media clamouring for his reinstatement and using the case to push more blatantly antisemitic forms of historical revisionism and conspiracy theory, I cannot, unlike the leader's office, feel glad that he is back in the party. In short, the party has probably made the right decision, but Machover is a poor choice for our solidarity.
Postscript: on witch-hunts and definitionsThe invocation by the Labour apparatchiks of the IHRA definition in investigating Machover will be grist for the mill for those, such as "Jewish Voice for Labour", who see the IHRA definition as a dangerous Zionist tool to censor criticism of Israel. Using the definition sloppily in expelling someone like Machover would, I think, be a gift to these people.
However, the opponents of the definition tend to selectively avoid quoting the definition's key words "criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic" and "taking into account the overall context", which stop it from being used to blanket ban anti-Israel comment. I am not a fan of the IHRA definition, but the tendentious description of it as part of a Zionist conspiracy has the effect of creating a protective wall for antisemites. It is part of a strategy on the behalf of some anti-Zionists to render all charges of antisemitism prima facie suspect (see David Hirsh on the Livingstone formulation), and I think anti-racists need to resist that.
The "Labour Against the Witchunt" campaign, led by the CPGB(PCC)'s Stan Keable, as well as Peter Fermin (Labour Representation Committee, previously Workers Action), Tony Greenstein and Jackie Walker (Labour Briefing), has three planks, including this one:
We demand that the Labour Party reject the International Holocaust Memorial Alliance (IHMA) definition of anti-Semitism, which conflates anti-Semitism with support for the rights of the Palestinian people and with criticism of the state of Israel and its racist and apartheid policies and practices.
As well as getting the name of the IHRA wrong, this is a wildly inaccurate summary of the definition, which as noted above explicitly says criticism of Israel is not in itself antisemitic and makes no comment about the rights of Palestinian people. While we should oppose bureaucratic maneuvers to exclude people from the party, rethink the policy on proscriptions and press for greater transparency in the process, this is a dangerous way to do it.
Footnote: On the myth of AWL's proscriptionIn my first draft of this post I had this paragraph in the first section:
Moreover, I believe, these organisations [LPM/CPGB(PCC)] are not proscribed organisations. As far as I know, the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) and the Socialist Party (the former wrongly in my view, as they have consistently advocated support for Labour for some time; the latter rightly, as they consistently oppose support for Labour) are the only two formally proscribed organisations still in existence - the original Communist Party of Great Britain used to be as well. In general, though, Labour Party members cannot be members of other parties incompatible with its values and aims, and I there is no prima facie case that LPM would be such an organisation, and no conclusive case has been made that CPGB(PCC) should be considered such.
Also readDavid Hirsh on the "gladness" of Corbyn's office; Dave Rich on Matzpen; Dave Rich on Loach, Livingstone and the Holocaust; Paul Anderson and Kevin Davey on the left in the Labour Party; Rainer Schulze on Nazis and Zionists; OHPI on why the Nazi-Zionist analogy is offensive.
Straight Left (2017);Free advice to Jeremy, Trots! , Undigested thoughts on Labour's antisemitism problem (2016); Corbyn and the Holocaust deniers (2015). Did Machover support Atzmon? (2005)