Can we now dispense with the ever more threadbare fiction that Jeremy Corbyn is not himself anti-Semitic? Even four years ago the weave of the arguments for this looked thin. Today the claim that Corbyn doesn’t harbour anti-Jewish sentiment has unravelled completely. The fact that Corbyn wrote the forward to J.A. Hobson’s 1902 book Imperialism: A Study, reissued in 2011, provides conclusive proof, if any were needed, that Corbyn approves of the classic anti-Semitic conspiracy theories from the 20th century, including Jewish control of the media, and that this is allied to an anti-imperialist position which sees Israel as part of the Western colonial enterprise, deliberately oppressing and exploiting the poorer populations of the world.
Hobson’s book has been hugely influential on the Left-wing discourse on imperialism: as Daniel Finkelstein writes, it provided inspiration for Lenin’s Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism. Hobson thought imperialism was driven by European finance interests. Seeking new markets for their excess capital they invested abroad. These investments required military support for protection. These financial houses succeeded through ownership of the press and control of public opinion in directing the international policy of the great powers, taking down an imperialist path that should have been left untrod.
Even taking account time it was written, the book that Jeremy Corbyn wrote a forward to is still rather … upfront in its views of the insidious nature of Jewish influence in Britain and the Western world. As Finkelstein demonstrates, all the tropes about insidious Jewish influence are here: Jews control the banks, the arms industries, the media and therefore Western governments. They drove imperialism to increase their financial assets, while the House of Rothschild was behind the Boer War and other conflicts. As Anthony Julius writes in Trials of the Diaspora, Hobson was the “most substantial” anti-Semitic polemicist of his time in Britain.
Corbyn approves of the book and offers fulsome praise for a tract that supposedly provides an analytical framework through which to analyse the current international situation, especially the War on Terror and other security issues, as well as the Western world’s approach to the world’s poor and oppressed peoples. The fact that Corbyn takes this book as an instruction manual on how our world works, should not be surprising. By writing this, Corbyn demonstrates his commitment to anti-imperialist ideology. As David Hirsh writes in Contemporary Left Antisemitism, this worldview views Jews as an oppressive colonial force on the world stage. Israel is simultaneously a remnant of the colonial period, part of the Western oppressor structure against the oppressed of the Global South, both an exploiter of Western imperialism and a front for it. It is a monolith behind all the world’s geopolitical ills.
Corbyn and his fellow ideologues ally with ‘resistance’ movements around the world which resist the boot of the hegemonic West. In practice, this means allying with tyrannical regimes like Iran that brutalise their own populations in the name of this great resistance, but that’s acceptable as long as these regimes are anti-imperialist, which means anti-West. The worldview of Corbyn and his allies, influenced by the Third Worldism of the Cold War years places its hope in Wretched of the Earth to carry forward the cause of revolutionary social-justice where domestic proletariats failed. However, the alliance between Western Leftists like Jeremy Corbyn and anti-imperialist forces in the Global South demonstrates an exoticised, distorted and sentimental view of the inhabitants of these countries.
In the anti-imperialist worldview, the inhabitants of these regimes that are so fortunate to enjoy Corbyn’s support are not flawed human beings like us. They are redemptive avatars, cyphers for an ideology which projects onto them its hope of overthrowing the oppressive forces of Western capitalist hegemony, whether these people want to participate or not. As Paul Berman put it, they are “materially poor, but morally wealthy.” In the anti-imperialist worldview, those who live under the regimes supported by Corbyn are stripped of all agency and individuality and are reduced to brown-skinned masses waiting to receive the enlightened progressive guidance of Western Leftists, only too eager to take up what might be called the white man’s revolutionary burden. Of course, these people are forgotten about as soon as the revolution turns sour, as happened with Venezuela. Jeremy Corbyn rails against Western capitalist exploitation of the Global South, while himself participating in ideological exploitation that brings nothing but misery to those poor souls unfortunate enough to be subject to the experiments of his worldview.
This approach to the international stage is epitomised in the Israel/Palestine situation, which the Western anti-imperialist Left view through the lens of anti-Zionism: it’s all Israel’s fault, Israel is an apartheid state now, has been since its racist founding and will always be. The far left’s embrace of the Palestinians as their emblematic victim group has done nothing to help the situation. It has arguably made it worse by excusing the tyrannical Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the terrorist Hamas government in Gaza, and those who attack Israeli civilians with rockets and suicide bombs as part of the ‘heroic resistance’ to Western colonialism. This is evidence of the fact, as Pascal Bruckner writes in The Tyranny of Guilt, that Corbyn and his friends “prefer the aesthetics of crime to the ethics of compromise.” This is what happens when a political ideology becomes the god that failed but didn’t die.
If anyone still insists, despite all the evidence, that Jeremy Corbyn does not have anti-Semitic beliefs and ideas they are either seriously mistaken or disingenuous. The answer to the question above is plainly yes. The fact that he has written a forward to Hobson’s book is not surprising. It shaped the anti-imperialist discourse which he inhabits and reflects the views of many in Corbyn’s world on Israel today. The fact that even after all this, Corbyn and his allies cannot accept his anti-Semitism suggests the strength of the ideology that has him and them in its possession. And that is a truly worrying prospect.