The Origins of the Corbynistas

Protest and Power: The Battle For The Labour Party By David Kogan
Bloomsbury, £20

THIS IS an excellent overview and dispassionate analysis of the past 40 years of Labour party history. The author, David Kogan, rightly places the debate about antisemitism in the wider context of the ascent of the far left in the party, from Tony Benn to the Corbynistas.

Its genesis was in the Golders Green home of Vladimir Derer, a Czech émi- gré fleeing Nazism and arriving in London in 1938. Derer initiated the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy which astutely utilised the party rule-book to seize control of the party machine over a period of decades. Jews were disproportionately involved — Frank Allaun was its president and the young Jon Lansman one of its leading activists.

New Labour under Tony Blair saw itself as a liberal party of power rather than one of protest for those who had no voice. This was seen as a betrayal of socialist values by many Labour party members.

Even before the debacle of the invasion of Iraq, figures such as Benn and Corbyn opposed Blair’s policy of moral and pragmatic intervention in loca- tions such as Kosovo, where the Serbs were on the verge of the ethnic cleans- ing of its Muslim inhabitants. As David Kogan implies, western intervention was subsequently always interpreted as western imperialism.

This reflected Corbyn’s depiction of the foundation of Israel as an outpost of imperialism, his support for the Palestinians and opposition to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza after 1967. He believed that being anti- Zionist was no more than being anti-racist.

Kogan covers familiar ground in a chapter on the unsavoury revelations surrounding antisemitism and argues that Jonathan Sacks’s resurrection of Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech rebounded and, in essence, produced a backlash in Corbyn’s favour.

Corbyn emerges as someone deeply embedded in the far-left bubble and incapable of breaking out of it. Following a meeting with Jewish leaders, he was described as just staring and shrugging his shoulders — yet this cari- cature speaks volumes and goes to the heart of his lack of understanding of the meaning of socialism.

The Blairite wing of the party was ironically the midwife in Corbyn’s rise by its support for dropping the bar from standing from 25 to 15 per cent of the parliamentary party — with several voting for his candidature seconds before the deadline.

The conversion to a party in which mass membership holds the reins of power, rather than elected MPs, raises the question of who controls the party.

Is it the Bennite concept that its members should be its decision-makers? Or should there be a centralised left-wing command structure — the preference of many who recently entered the party from the far left including many pro-Kremlin communists.

David Kogan’s book should be mandatory reading for all those concerned about antisemitism in the Labour party. 

Jewish Chronicle 24 May 2019

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