by Nick Wright
It was with a sense of relief that I caught Jeremy Corbyn’s tweet marking the tenth anniversary of the financial crash and setting out Labour’s plans to deal with irresponsible speculative banking practices. This is real substantial politics that goes to the core of the choices facing people in Britain and provides a welcome respite from the highly concocted ‘debate’ around alleged antisemitism in the Labour Party.
But Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle misses no opportunity. In response to the video he tweeted the following: “Been hesitating to tweet this bevause (sic) I keep thinking it can’t be, surely it can’t be.
But the more I think about it, the more it seems it really is. This is ‘nudge, nudge, you know who I am talking about don’t you?’
And yes I do. It’s appalling.”
As Pollard undoubtedly anticipated this set off a twitter storm in which the more rabid critics of Corbyn made explicit what he implied. Nudge, nudge, know what I mean.
Equally predictable was the response of many people who allowed themselves to be tangled up in his twitter train. Comments ranged from sheer misbelief that even a notably partisan Tory like Pollard could concoct such a thing to a world-weary recognition that nothing less can be expected from the man.
For readers whose mind does not run on the twisted tracks that Pollard lays let me explain. Pollard is saying that in criticising bankers and the banking system Corbyn is giving voice to an age-old antisemitic trope.
There is, of course, no basis for Pollard’s slur. But let us deconstruct this narrative a little.
Bankers are rarely popular and in times of capitalist crisis less so especially among petty-bourgeois commercial interests and small business people whose dependence on credit is nowadays increasingly shared by all working people enmeshed in a tangle of mortgages, credit card debt and borrowing.
Of course, there does exist a subterranean antisemitic trope that conflates bankers with Jewish people. In the inflationary panics of the Weimar Republic, the Nazis played it to the deluded whose votes they sought. But far from challenging the power of finance, Hitler sought its support, and when the foundations of capitalist rule were in danger he found both German and (to the extent they could be separated) international finance willing partners.
Banker Kurt Baron von Schröder’s account of how he hosted the critical meeting between Hitler and Reich Chancellor von Papen is revealing.
“…This meeting between Hitler and Papen on 4 January 1933 in my house in Cologne was arranged by me after Papen had asked me for it on about 10 December 1932. Before I took this step I talked to a number of businessmen and informed myself generally on how the business world viewed a collaboration between the two men. The general desire of businessmen was to see a strong man come to power in Germany who would form a government that would stay in power for a long time. [ . . . ]
And it was international bankers and Montague Slater, governor of the Bank of England, who facilitated the transfer of Czechoslovakia’s gold reserves to Hitler the better to aid his war plans. (The Independent 30 March 1997: The Nazis’ British bankers, Secret war documents may reveal that Germany had staunch allies at the Bank of England).
If some Jewish banking dynasties exist today it is precisely because institutional antisemitism by medieval state and church confined Jews to certain trades including money lending, and these traditions were maintained through the development of mercantile capitalism and are now embedded in the present system of state monopoly capitalism. But in today’s politics, no great explanatory power is mobilised by a futile attempt to separate out “Jewish” capital from capital as a whole or find class interests that distinguish Jewish bankers from others.
For those early socialists who failed to break free from the then prevalent forms of antisemitism the German social democrat, August Bebel defined such beliefs as ‘The socialism of fools.”
It has always been necessary for socialists to make explicit the ways in which occupation and social positioning reveal how successive social systems organise classes. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the vast bulk of Jewish people in Britain were super-exploited workers, in the main garment workers, furniture workers and craftsmen. And if the vast majority of Jewish people in Britain have improved their conditions of life they are as far from the centres of wealth and power occupied by the financial elite as any other British person.
So who is propagating this equation – Jews as bankers. Bankers as Jews.
It is Stephen Pollard who is playing with this antisemitic trope. He does it knowingly precisely in order to mobilise the discourses that present-day social media make possible conscious that this profoundly dishonest tweet will provoke.
But he miscalculated and instead drew criticism down on his own head. His tweet answering the overwhelmingly negative response he provoked is revealing in its faux self-criticism
“I accept all the criticism of this tweet, and that I may be way off beam. But this is what happens when antisemitism is allowed to flourish — and when an antisemite leads a party. You start to read his every word through that prism. Even if the words aren’t about Jews.”
So there you have it. Jeremy Corbyn is responsible for Stephen Pollard’s capitulation to an antisemitic trope.
The public service union leader Mark Serwotka, this year’s president of the Trade Union Congress, made an entirely reasonable point when he suggested that the Israeli State might be interfering in British politics.
A leader in the online newspaper The Independent described this as “the stuff of historical antisemitic tropes” and suggested thatnow “If Mr Serwotka is a dedicated anti-racist, he should at least ask himself why he has fallen into this manner of thinking.”
One might ask Stephen Pollard the same question.
Of course, unlike Jeremy Corbyn’s alleged antisemitism Israeli State interference in British public life is not imaginary but rather established fact. It was only a short while back that the Israeli State was compelled to recall a member of its embassy staff here after he was caught on camera discussing — with allies in British political life — how to take down a politician. (In this case, a Conservative deemed to be too much an Arabist.)
In conflating Mark Serwotka’s well-founded comments — which amount to nothing more than strait-forward criticism of actions by the Israeli State – with hostility to Jews as such the Independent has given some credence to the narrative upon which reactionary Zionist opinion trades.
Not all bankers are Jewish, not all Jews are bankers. Not all Jews are Zionists, not all Zionists are Jewish. Stephen Pollard might have capitulated to an anti-semitic trope, Mark Serwotka hasn’t.