Unpacking the Zionism of ex-Revolutionary, Dr. James Heartfield

Between twenty-five to thirty years ago the only political groupings that guaranteed a fair hearing for the Palestinian cause are those that were and are commonly referred to as the “far left”. The Labour Party had always been an overwhelmingly pro-Zionist organisation until very recently. For Muslim or Islamist groups, Palestine wasn’t a major rallying issue for them back in say the late 1980s or early 1990s.

But even within the so-called “far-left” especially amongst the multitude of Trotskyist organisations one constantly encountered strong pro-Israeli sentiment which continues to this very day. Anyway, it was within this political environment that I came across a magazine called “Living Marxism” published by the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), a Trotskyist organisation whose leading guru was Frank Furedi. This organisation had ultimately split from the parent Trotskyist organisation that was headed by Tony Cliffe called, Socialist Workers Party (formerly International Socialists). Living Marxism had stood out from the other Trotsky magazines or journals because it took up more pro-Palestinian or pro-Arab positions than the others vis-à-vis the Zionist occupying entity and also during the first war on Iraq in 1991.

The editor of Living Marxism was Mick Hume and one of the writers for the magazine was James Heartfield, now based at a London University and author of many academic books. One can safely assume that all who were involved in this group considered themselves to be revolutionary, communist and a Marxist. As such they believed in the complete overhaul of the existing capitalist-imperialist order to be replaced by their communistic vision of society determined by Marxist theory and, of course, a working class led by them. Alas, the group and magazine are now long disbanded but in the mid-90s the magazine did successfully rebrand as the online journal, Spiked.

In the wake of recent accusations in March of this year against Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn that his stewardship of the Party has led to a tolerance of anti-semitism, Dr. Heartfield on his facebook page took the opportunity to espouse and proselytise on behalf of the Zionist entity. No doubt that anti-semitism exists in the Labour Party and it needs be addressed. But denouncing or implying that those of us who refuse to accept the legitimacy of the Zionist entity, i.e. “Israel” are anti-semites is nonsense. He thundered the following in a posting dated 26th March,

“Ninety per cent of British Jews support Israel – just as Greeks like Greece, Americans resident here like America, Syrians like Syria. They are no more or less racist than anyone who believes in their country – unless of course what you mean is that Jews are different, and should not be allowed a country of their own.”

The notion that Jews “should not be allowed a country of their own” totally misses the point and is actually a historical as well as logical fallacy. Several years ago, I had the pleasure of hearing the scholar Ilan Pappe dismantle and unpack this particular defence of the usurping entity. To rehash Pappe’s argument, no one objects to Jews having “a country of their own” and if the Jews want a country of their own so be it. What is very objectionable is that “a country of their own” should not be at the expense of anyone else or as is now the case, at the price of ethnically cleansing Palestine of its indigenous population which is what happened with the formal establishment of the Zionist entity in 1948. That is at least 700,000 Palestinians were driven out by British imperialist trained Zionist forces to make way for “a country of their own”.

Heartfield in argument on the same thread upheld that the, “US – like the UK before it – is the power that has been most responsible for constructing that imperial order in which the Israelis (like the Egyptians, Iraqis and Jordanians) played a subordinate role within.” Once again there are two points here that needs to be factually repudiated as they are misleading, possibly deceptive.

Firstly, unlike the Egyptians, Iraqis and Jordanians, the vast majority of Israelis are colonial settlers, whose settlements were guaranteed security by the military power of British imperialism. The Israelis in Palestine owe the origins of their existence to the colonial policy of British imperialism in the inter-war period, while the vast majority of the “Egyptians, Iraqis and Jordanians” are indigenous to their land. Secondly, the claim that the Zionist entity, plays “a subordinate role” within a constructed “imperial order” is absolutely flawed. Again, the Zionist entity was established to uphold and consolidate the “imperial order” that was originally established by the UK and inherited by the United States. He has placed the cart before the horse. For a once Marxist, Heartfield clearly shows, when it comes to the Middle East, he has a sweeping contempt for historical context.

He then continues by reassuring an antagonist that, “most Jews – in Britain anyway – have a (somewhat qualified) belief in Israel. They are not motivated by hatred of Palestinians, but the same national motives that move people to be proudly Indian, or Irish, or Belgian.” Again, based on my understanding of Pappe, Jews can be as unabashedly proud as they want but that pride shouldn’t be at the dismantling, dispossession and disenfranchisement of another people. More importantly, a la Fanon, how does one be proud of an imperialist colonial-settler project if not by totally demeaning the very existence, let alone the struggles, of the dispossessed indigenous population who inevitably were marginalised to make way for the project? 

To be fair, Heartfield, isn’t the only one from the RCP/Living Marxism political sect that have jettisoned all historical analysis of particular issues or rejected their former ideological positions. The former guru of the group, Professor Furedi, in a piece commemorating Karl Marx’s bicentenary, offered the following analysis of why it all went so wrong for the revolutionaries:

“[Karl] Marx got some important things wrong. In particular, his characterisation of the working class as the embodiment of the spirit of universality… For a while, his attempt to invest the working classes with a universalistic mission appeared to many as a plausible alternative to earlier, failed forms of universal thought. And yet in the following decades, especially from the First World War onwards, Marxists have been forced to devote most of their energies to the task of explaining why the proletariat failed to grasp the universalistic role assigned to it.”

This beggars the question that if self-appointed Marxists leaders, such as Furedi had known all along from the end of World War 1, that is in 1918, that the notion of the working class as universal saviours and liberators of humanity from capitalism is “wrong”, then why did Furedi set up a Marxist group in the late 1970s to do exactly that (i.e. “invest the working classes with a universalistic mission”)? I mean had the intervening 60 years meant nothing to him because he was now on the political scene? Or could it be, because he was having a jolly and simply wanted to pass some time puffing and producing revolutionary neologisms with his equally and esteemed revolutionary mates? Maybe being a Marxist was his gateway or vehicle to secure friendship and position in British society? And just as importantly, can I be reimbursed (taking inflation into account) for the amount of money and time I spent on ‘Living Marxism’ magazines as I’ve still got quite a few old copies kicking around somewhere?

In conclusion the three arguments repudiated in support of Zionism here that is, firstly, Jews are entitled to a country of their own, secondly, the Zionist entity is unfairly singled out by political activists and finally pro-Zionist Jews have a natural right to be proud of the Zionist entity are not limited to ex-revolutionaries such as Heartfield.

Furthermore, there is no doubt that a minority of people who claim an interest in Middle East politics adopt an anti-Zionist positions as cover for their deep seated anti-semitism. Yet, by the same token, there are far more people especially in England and the United States, who adopt a pro-Zionist position as a cover for their robust and unfailing attachment to colonialism, imperialism and good old massacres. Spiked, the successor to Living Marxism is without doubt one of the most unapologetic pro-Zionist journals in the UK and you can read its current editor’s barbaric and twisted defence of the recent Zionist massacre of over 60 unarmed Palestinians here.

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