Those ‘pockets’ of left-wing anti-semitism are being filled by the far-right

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Jeremy Corbyn’s reputation for modesty might not survive revelations about his habit of joining pro-Jeremy Corbyn groups on Facebook. The Guardian’s Hadley Freeman calls such groups ‘anti-semitic’, which, although it is a blatant misrepresentation, does contain a possibly unwitting smidgen of truth.

I’ve long been a member of numerous pro-Corbyn groups and I have seen anti-semitic material posted there. The better-organised ones remove it once warned, but in some such groups memes and videos blaming cabals of prominent Jewish people for the world’s problems are rife and widely approved of. Such material mostly derives from the noxious swamp of Sputnik, Russia Today, and fake news websites which push what to a cursory scroller may look like nothing more than an anti-neoliberal elite agenda, but a closer inspection quickly identifies the same old tropes: Soros, the Rothschilds, the shady hook-nosed NWO, etc. The memes in question aren’t coming from the Left, in the sense that they didn’t originate there, but they do often meet with a depressingly positive reaction.

Nonetheless, there’s something both sly and unfair about (for example) Suzanne Moore’s comment that Corbyn himself is ‘not an anti-semite, but…‘. Similarly, Hadley Freeman’s List of evidence of Corbyn’s anti-semitist connections is a pretty empty one unless you consider all attempts to talk to groups representing Palestinians as beyond the Green Line. At least Freeman doesn’t mention Israel, unlike the spokesman for the British Board of Deputies the guy on Radio 4 two days ago, who just couldn’t stop himself. There are, to borrow a phrase, pockets within those groups which officially represent the Jewish community (often, as it were, the top pockets) which instinctively paint all criticism of Israel as anti-semitic. Their ongoing prominence in this debate muddies the waters just as much as those who are ready to shout down all talk of left-wing anti-semitism as a media plot.

I don’t doubt that many of the people on the protests outside Parliament were sincere in their concerns. The Brick Lane mural was absurdly anti-semitic, and Corbyn’s approval of it can’t be dismissed. (Unless, that is, we adopt a puerile definition of free speech, of which more later.) In downplaying the incident Aaron Bastani ignores the fact that if a prominent Tory or Ukip politician had ‘liked’ the same image, we would all be screaming from the rooftops, as we would if a Conservative candidate had shared the sort of Holocaust denial material posted by Alan Bull. Anyone who doesn’t recognise such blatant anti-semitism really shouldn’t be spouting off about the subject. As others have pointed out, there is something about Corbyn’s anti-elite populism which allows such tropes to fester, and the Left has a duty to address this.

The contemporary far-right is keen to exploit ambiguities and confusion among (nominally) progressive radicals in order to draw them towards its own ideas. As this article details, it sees satire as a tool for generating controversies and bringing non- and even anti-fascists into its orbit. As it happens, it wasn’t a deliberate ploy that brought me into its online sphere of influence, but it was a comedian who transported me there. On his (very) hit-and-miss podcast, Russell Brand recently interviewed the new daddy-waddy figure of the far-right, Jordan Peterson. I listened to the first two minutes, until it rapidly became clear that Brand’s deeply irritating habit of doing no research whatsoever meant that he was not going to be able to challenge or even to see through Peterson’s specious pseudo-intellectual rhetoric. Those two minutes were a rich seam for the far-right, because ever since then well over 50% of the videos Youtube has suggested to me feature Peterson ‘crushing’ his liberal debating opponents from Noam Chomsky to (I seem to recall) Mahatma Ghandi. If I hadn’t read certain articles alerting me to Peterson’s pernicious influence and detailing his intellectual fraudulence, I might be inclined to listen.

A related episode involved two more British comedians: Ricky Gervais and David Baddiel. Both tweeted in favour of the ‘free speech’ of a man called Mark Meechan (aka ‘Count Dankula’), seemingly unaware he is not a mere ‘comedian’, but a far-right activist. They were duped, pulled through a loophole created by widespread confusion about the difference between the right to privately express hateful ideas and using/abusing privately-owned public platforms to do so. A further example of ‘anti-establishment’ satire being used to promote deeply reactionary ideas is the character Jonathan Pie, whose material is co-written by a member of the far-right cult Spiked. Spiked’s ‘contrarian’ dogma involves total freedom for the far-right and active censure for anyone who opposes it.

If the Left is finding that some of its pockets contain noxious ideas, there’s no mystery as to who is placing them there, and how. Emptying those pockets out involves total intolerance of nazis and anti-semites and their ideas, and extreme vigilance for anyone seeking to use the Left’s own values to undermine it. Anyone posting in notionally left-wing forum about Soros and the Rothschilds, etc is either very naive or outright evil, and those who use a dishonest and self-serving notion of ‘free speech’ as a tool to smuggle in far-right ideas should be immediately exposed and, to borrow a phrase from the far-right, sent back to where they came from.

EXCLUSIVE: Tommy Robinson signs up to write for Spiked Online

 

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In a surprise development, one guaranteed to take the world of attention-seeking intellectually dishonest websites by storm, the ‘contrarian’ news commentary site Spiked Online has announced a new star columnist: Tommy Robinson, formerly of the British National Party/English Defence League, the highly-regarded and not-at-all gullible Quilliam Foundation think tank, and a number of leading UK penitentiary institutions.

‘Many have seen us as basically a pseudo-intellectual version of 4chan, while others regard us as some sort of long-standing university clique whose main defining characteristic is a desire to get revenge on the sort of people who didn’t want to be friends with them at university’, said Brendan O’Neill of Spiked, who asked us to mention that the sunglasses he was wearing during the conversation ‘may or may not have been’ the same brand as those worn by ‘certain members of the alt-right’. ‘Acquiring the skills of a widely-respected thinker such as Tommy Robinson may challenge those perceptions’, he went on. ‘Whether in terms of having a go at the Irish over Brexit, splenetically feigning enthusiasm for what is basically a pre-GCSE notion of #freespeech, or just generally getting angry towards a deliberate mischaracterisation of Islamic belief and practice, Tommy will fit right into our stable of wannabe iconoclasts. Plus his involvement may lighten the burden of our having to churn out hundreds of articles a week of look-at-meeee-I’m-soooo-shocking speciously-argued op-eds, given that the sort of people he will be attracting to the RCP/Living Marxism/LM/Spiked Online/Red Front/Institute of Ideas/Sense About Science/Ferraris for All/Irish Freedom Movement/Audacity/Worldwrite/Maverick Club family of brands can’t actually read’.

Mr O’Neill then had to excuse himself, explaining that he had to meet some of his ‘mates’ to ‘drink beer, say lots of bad words’ and ‘some other really really naughty things, like probably a football hooliganism’. Asked whether his companions happened to include anyone by the name of Furedi, Fox, Hume or Malik, O’Neill demurred. Mr Robinson himself could not be contacted as he was busy continuing his ongoing undercover expose of online abuse of underage Muslim girls by leading members of the British far-right, and after having wiped himself down from that was due to pop in to his sunbed shop to see how much money he’d made that day from local people  desperate to have a darker skin tone (our emphasis). His first column for Spiked, to be entitled ‘Why true patriots abhor this so-called royal wedding’, is scheduled to be published next week.

My days in a far-right troll cult

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.jpgIn Sheffield as of 1987 anyone walking through the shopping precinct in the centre of town ran a gauntlet of left-wing newspaper sellers. The 14-year-old me often generally managed to avoid handing over 30p or so of my hard-earned paper round money for Socialist Worker, but on occasion I found myself buttonholed by some garrulous and well-presented young people pushing a publication called ‘The Next Step’. None of them appeared to be local, and they were, by comparison with their competitors, refreshingly unconcerned with whatever workers’ struggles were going on in South Yorkshire at the time. I didn’t get the ideological distinctions between the Revolutionary Communist Party, as they were called, and the Socialist Workers, but I suspect that the way they responded whenever I asked about such things – they were more than happy to slag off their rivals on the left – appealed to my disaffected sensibilities and inchoate contrarian instincts. I started going to meetings at which they pressed a copy of Lenin’s ‘What is to be done’ on me, and also made me shell out for a copy of a book called ‘Moral Panics’, which I did read and found splenetically entertaining if sometimes puzzling at the level of basic logical argumentation.

Although I had trouble keeping up with their sometimes contradictory-seeming political arguments, they were at least friendly, relatively unpatronising and certainly socially useful. They took me to the Leadmill to see a band who later turned out to be Deacon Blue, and got me properly drunk, all the time shouting in my ear about stuff I really didn’t know much about. I do remember that one of my new comrades, taking issue with a stranger’s St George’s badge, began shouting at him about Northern Ireland and started a dancefloor ruckus. We also took a trip to London to the gay pride carnival, or as it was at the time, demo, where I had a distinctly Life of Brian moment upon seeing a banner from the Revolutionary Communist Group. I asked the natural question, only to be told that they were ‘wankers’. Then the general election came around, and we suddenly stopped being the RCP and turned instead into something called the Red Front, under which monicker we went banging on doors in search of people to disagree with. Our campaign ended with 277 votes, which was considered a victory as at least it was more than the possibly dead bloke from some basically defunct version of the Communist Party had received. Eventually other aspects of teenagehood took over and, despite some tugging on their part (I think I still owe them £1.75 for the Lenin book, which they were keen to get hold of), I succeeded in drifting away.

From then on I kept an occasional eye on what they were up to but maintained my distance. I remember joining all my fellow delegates in turning my back as an RCP member spoke up at NUS conference, but I don’t remember why. Although I was living in Ireland at the time, I was vaguely aware that they were ubiquitous in the UK in the mid-1990s, standing on street corners looking slick and pushing subscriptions to their magazine Living Marxism. It had entertaining covers and contained articles written from a consistently libertarian standpoint, with elaborate arguments that would sort of persuade you that whatever you had thought about (to choose a not-entirely-random example) the environment was wrong, but with an uncanny feeling that you were the victim of some sort of trick or part of a game that wasn’t actually all that much fun to play. After it became clear that they were prepared to perpetrate full-on atrocity denial in order to promote their wilfully exasperating view of the world, it was very hard for anyone to take anything they said seriously. Few would have expected them to continue to deepen their influence in British life, but it seems they are far more determined and cunning than anyone might have thought.

Given their relatively rapid en masse shift away from the left, there’s been a ongoing mystery of why they do what they do, particularly since (through their website Spiked) they started selling their contrarian punditry to corporations and the right-wing media. From my own experiences and from having followed their development through articles such as thisthis and this, I suspect they are a bit of a sect, but one in which the personal bonds override and yet (if we consider their commitment to the politics of self-interest) determine their collective ideological stance. The members of the core group, largely unchanged for the last thirty of so years, have managed to cave out steady careers in the media, with a shared ideological bent seemingly determined by the desire not just to provoke but to (as we now understand it) troll. Their contrarianism far surpasses anything I might have identified with as a teenager, and at times their adolescent desire to scandaliser la bourgeoisie would put even Marilyn Manson to shame.

The LRB piece linked to above refers to this teenage aspect, the way their rhetorical insistence that everyone ‘act like grown-ups’ seems to betray an adolescent mindset. (It also mentions that Frank Furedi’s dependence on newspaper articles for his source material suggests that his reputation as a serious academic is not entirely deserved.) They continue to have a fixation on the young, with their successive front projects such as the Manifesto Club, the East London Science School and WorldWrite (of which our erstwhile election candidate is now director) aimed directly at teenagers. Now that schools are up for grabs by anyone with enough cash, regardless of their ideological proclivities, they seem to be enjoying more direct access to young minds. The prominence of Brendan O’Neill as a steadfastly obnoxious commentator for my new-not-favourite newspaper The Telegraph has (re)alerted many to the dangers of their project, which now seems to dovetail with certain aspects of a hard-right agenda*, particularly outright climate denial and the abuse of the notion of ‘free speech’ to legitimate hate speech. This site has also written this week of the insidious influence they also seem to enjoy in sections of the BBC. (This excellent Tumblr blog Twitter feed is also extremely informative on such matters, with an very useful primer to countering their bullshit available here.) Of course, it’s something of a provocative exaggeration to call the Spiked/LM/RCP crowd a far-right troll cult, just as it’s completely absurd to call the #metoo phenomenon a ‘moral panic’ and a ‘modern day Salem’ or claim that misplaced hysteria over climate change caused the Grenfell fire. But from my experiences as an impressionable young person subjected to their influence, combined with the fact that their current agenda is so close to that of the global far-right as to make very little meaningful difference, this is not a group of people who should be allowed anywhere near schools.

*To the extent that he now seems to be styling himself after Mike Cernovich. O’Neill’s entire Facebook profile is well worth a chuckle. Who on earth, apart from those with an uncontrollable need to publicise themselves, keeps their Facebook account public?!