Jeremy Corbyn – comment from Danny Finkelstein in the Times

Another excellent article by Danny Finkelstein that echo’s some of the themes on the rise of Jeremy Corbyn posted on this blog:


Daniel Finkelstein

Daniel Finkelstein

The Labour leader’s sympathies lie with those he sees as suffering under the capitalist oppression of the US and Britain

Before Jeremy Corbyn’s ideas can be criticised, they must first be properly understood. And a good place to start is with the moment, at the beginning of 1975, when the police fished Betty Van Patter’s body out of San Francisco Bay. Her corpse had been in the water for two weeks. Her head had been caved in with a blunt implement.

David Horowitz knew how this had happened. He knew who did it and it made him sick to his stomach. And it isn’t going too far to say that this realisation — this sinking feeling that he knew Betty’s murderers and couldn’t escape the knowledge — changed Horowitz’s world view entirely.

In his extraordinary memoir, Radical Son, Horowitz tells the story of his upbringing as the son of two members of the United States Communist Party in the era of Stalin. He was the classic “red diaper baby” and had, at the age of 17, the classic red-diaper-baby reaction to Khrushchev’s secret speech of 1956. The revelation of Stalin’s crimes made Horowitz determined to save the left from the errors of his parents.

Thus was formed the new left of the 1960s. At the heart of its radical ideology was opposition to the idea of US “imperialism” and Cold War politics. Horowitz became a leading figure, as a West Coast college activist, thinker and writer. After a detour to London (where he moved in next door to Ralph Miliband who lent him Marxist books and became his mentor) Horowitz became the editor of the New Left’s leading publication, Ramparts magazine.

It was during his tenure that he became involved with the militant Black Panther movement. He was aware that there was a strong undertone of gangster violence mixed in with its political black power agenda but he overlooked it. They were the spokesmen of the oppressed after all. So he took on the role of informal adviser to the Panther leader Huey Newton, helped to establish a Panther school and when the Panthers needed a bookkeeper he lent them the bookkeeper of Ramparts magazine. Betty Van Patter.

In the days after Betty’s death, Horowitz finally understood what he had done. That he had made the same error as his parents. That throughout his life, thinking the new left was on the side of the oppressed, it had in fact been on the side of mass murderers, criminals and dictators. Stalin. Mao. Castro. Che Guevara. Ho Chi Minh. Pol Pot. The Black Panthers. He could sometimes dimly see their crimes, but he saw them as the responsibility of the system they were fighting.

He didn’t realise who Huey Newton was because, although it was in front of his eyes, he didn’t really want to know. And so it was that he lent himself to Panthers who were, in many cases, insanely violent and deeply evil. And this naivety paved the way to the death of Betty. The Panthers were dangerous for an ordinary bookkeeper to know, especially if she queried their criminal receipts or simply challenged them.

This story is worth telling because it explains so clearly the nature of Mr Corbyn’s politics and what is wrong with them.

There is something a little odd about all the quotes we have read, isn’t there? The ones in which Mr Corbyn describes Hezbollah and Hamas as “friends”, and the death of bin Laden as an “attempted assassination” that was “a tragedy”, and the crimes of Isis as equivalent to the actions of American troops fighting Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah.

The oddity lies in the fact that Mr Corbyn says he does not approve of the actions of bin Laden or Isis, that he only called Hezbollah “friends” as a peace gesture, and that even though he invited Sinn Fein/IRA to parliament he doesn’t support IRA bombing.

This leads his supporters to suggest that the quotes are smears. But they aren’t. He wasn’t caught saying these things in private. He said them deliberately and the record is quite clear.

The solution to this apparent puzzle — that Mr Corbyn talks sympathetically about people whose actions he says he is against — lies in the Horowitz story. Mr Corbyn is a new-left anti-imperialist of the same sort as the 1960s activists.

He regards the violence of organisations such as Hezbollah and the IRA as a bad thing. He is able to say therefore that he disapproves of it. That he does not condone it. What he never says, however, is that the violence is clearly their fault.

The reason he does not say this is that he does not think it. The new- left anti-imperialist idea is that the origins of all violent movements is the adventurism of Britain and the United States, oppressing less well-off people in order to defend the interests of global capitalism. The murders of al-Qaeda or the IRA are the actions of liberation movements, who, whatever one may think of them, are just fighting back.

The most interesting part of Mr Corbyn’s quote about bin Laden’s death was, actually, not so much that he called that event a tragedy. It is that he used the exact same word about 9/11. “The World Trade Center was a tragedy.” Not an outrage, not a heinous act. A tragedy. This was not a word employed by accident.

He used it because he thinks that al-Qaeda are not properly to be regarded as the sole authors of their aggression. And that the IRA are not fully responsible for their bombing. Ditto Hamas.

Just as with Horowitz’s new left, this position has two problems. The first is that this characterisation of British and American foreign policy is grotesque. It is not necessary to believe either country is morally blameless in order to agree that both have been the front line of the defence of liberty against oppression for a hundred years.

There are many severe criticisms that can be made of policy that was sometimes deeply cynical and mistaken. But taken together, over the history of the Second World War, the Cold War and beyond, I have no doubt whose side America and Britain has been on.

The second is, just as with Horowitz and the Black Panthers, the Corbyn position results in sympathetic dalliance with literally anyone who can be seen as being a liberation movement. The rocket firers of Hezbollah, the car bombers of the IRA, the suicide bombers of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Hugo Chávez. Homophobes, beheaders, antisemites.

All these become “friends” to share platforms with. People whose violence you disapprove of but also overlook — just as Horowitz did with Huey Newton — as the tragic consequence of their struggle against oppression and the result of our aggression. All they are waiting for is your hand in peace.

Until Betty Van Patter turns up dead in the water. With her head caved in with a blunt implement.

One thought on “Jeremy Corbyn – comment from Danny Finkelstein in the Times”

  1. The best & most succinct explanation of Jeremy Corbyn’s passive, apologetic stance on Hamas, anti-semitism. and IS.

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