JUST when you think Labour couldn’t sink any lower, two stories which emerged on the same day tested again exactly how deep is the floor of the party’s cesspit.
The first was the Times columnist Daniel Finkelstein digging out a 2011 reissue of J A Hobson’s 1902 vile book, Imperialism: A Study, the foreword to which was written by one Jeremy Corbyn. Of this deeply anti-Semitic book Finkelstein writes that:
‘Hobson made his views clear in his earlier book, The War in South Africa. The war was being fought to support Jewish interests. Hobson blames “a small group of international financiers, chiefly German in origin and Jewish in race . . . The rich and powerful liquor trade . . . is entirely in the hands of Jews . . . the stock exchange is needless to say, mostly Jewish . . . the press of Johannesburg is chiefly their property . . . we are fighting in order to place a small international oligarchy of mine owners and speculators in power at Pretoria.’
This idea carries over into Imperialism, the reissue of which Mr Corbyn introduced warmly.
In it, Hobson writes that ‘men of a single and peculiar race, who have behind them many centuries of financial experience . . . are in a unique position to control the policy of nations’.
As Jonathan Freedland has commented in an excellent piece in the Guardian, ‘when he speaks of a “single and peculiar race”, he’s not talking about the Welsh’.
In that same paragraph, Freedland points out, ‘Hobson plucks on an anti-Jewish string that still resonates today. He asks if any European state would dare contemplate a great war, “if the house of Rothschild and its connections set their face against it?”’
Labour have reassured us that there is nothing to worry about despite the fact that across the eight pages of Corbyn’s foreword, ‘there is not so much as an acknowledgment of the racism within that text’.
According to Shadow Cabinet member Rebecca Long-Bailey, ‘Jeremy quite vigorously would not support any anti-Semitic statement made by that particular writer or indeed any other particular writer . . . I think he was looking at the political thought within the whole text itself, not the comments that were anti-Semitic.’
Really so? How come, then, that as Freedland writes: ‘the bit Corbyn praised as “correct and prescient” was, in his words, “Hobson’s railing against the commercial interests that fuel the role of the popular press”,’ a passage in the section ‘where Hobson’s target is “this little group of financial kings”, these “cosmopolitan” men whom he had already identified as Jews.’
This chapter, furthermore, Freedland alerts us, is called Economic Parasites of Imperialism, ‘parasites’ being a recurrent image in anti-Jewish propaganda.
Again from Jonathan Freedland: ‘This is not a mere aside by Hobson that might accidentally be overlooked in a skim-read by a busy politician. There are pages and pages of it.’
Hobson’s book is well known to, even if not widely read by, students of European colonialism. Vladimir Lenin, writing later on imperialism, acknowledged an intellectual debt to Hobson, which for anyone with a normal moral compass should be a loudly clanging alarm bell. A book recommendation from the founder of a totalitarian state isn’t normally to be welcomed.
But the fundamental problem with Labour’s defence of the Corbyn foreword is that anti-Semitism is clearly inseparable from the theories the book propounds. If there is no dispute from Labour that the book was deeply racist, why would not Mr Corbyn at least have offered a caveat? But he didn’t, not even the tiniest one. There is no attempt to dissociate himself in the foreword from its very clear anti-Semitism.
That anti-Semitic ideas were then (at the start of the twentieth century) both more prevalent and overt cannot possibly let Corbyn off the hook. The morally clear-sighted of the time, as today, could still see them as evil. Hobson’s book has content that is mad and bad and there is no reasonable excuse for endorsing it.
The second story has attracted less attention but is as concerning. John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor, has again been happy to stand on a platform celebrating the Left-wing May Day festival surrounded by the iconography of genocide. Guido Fawkes has a picture of this week’s event, with McDonnell within feet of a proud banner carrying the portraits of Lenin, Mao and Stalin. It’s worth looking at here.
Just feet away from McDonnell’s left shoulder is a flag bearing the hammer and sickle. Which, considering its links to Stalin’s purges, in which 20million or more were sent to labour camps, and the killing fields it once decorated, makes it as sinister as the swastika.
Imagine a Conservative Cabinet minister happily taking part in an event celebrating Mussolini, Franco and Hitler? You get the idea. Rightly, his or her career would probably be over. The BBC would explode with righteous fury. I would too for that matter. But the BBC news website hasn’t even registered this story.
What should really worry us is that Mr McDonnell has been criticised for this before and doesn’t seem to care. Where’s the shamefaced apology, the contrition? Mr McDonnell simply repeats the offence.
Despite his famous production of Mao’s Little Red Book in Parliament and his known appreciation of other Communist literature, I doubt that he would defend Mao’s great (and artificial) famine or Stalin’s hellish slave camps.
Or maybe he would, since he seems unbothered about appearing alongside these symbols of murder on an unimaginable scale.
Both Mr Corbyn and Mr McDonnell have proved again their unfitness for public office. Have we yet reached Labour’s nadir, or do we need to go even deeper before those still in the party who possess any sense of decency finally head to the exits?