The latest smear of antisemitism against Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is another attempt to discredit the left and its opposition to war.
Ever since Corbyn was elected leader the right has tried to insinuate that the left’s support for Palestinian liberation made it inherently antisemitic.
Now Tory peer Daniel Finkelstein has claimed this is a problem rooted in the left’s opposition to imperialism—the system of global competition between capitalist states.
“The problem of left wing antisemitism isn’t really about Israel,” Finkelstein wrote in the Times newspaper. “It’s much more deeply embedded than that.”
The smoking gun is that Corbyn wrote a foreword to a book called Imperialism—A Study, written by the radical liberal economist JA Hobson. Originally published in 1902, the book tried to explain what had driven new wars for imperial domination in Africa.
It’s probably best known on the left because the Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin used its research to write his own work on imperialism.
Lenin sketched out how the slaughter of the First World War flowed from a global system of competing capitalist states.
As capitalism developed in the 19th century, competition among rival capitalist firms grew into competition among rival states. They competed to carve up world markets and get ahead of each other.
It’s completely hypocritical for right wing writers and politicians—who defend the racists, colonialists and slavers of the British Empire of the past—to denounce Corbyn for writing a foreword on Hobson
For Finkelstein, Lenin’s use of Hobson implies that the left has a problem with antisemitism.
Hobson did have antisemitic views. But the book is not one of antisemitic conspiracy theory. It has been widely referred to and discussed by academics, historians and politicians for decades—including by some of those who now attack Corbyn.
Right wing former Labour MP Tristram Hunt described Hobson as “an important figure, worthy of study”. Former right wing Labour prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have both praised Hobson.
It’s completely hypocritical for right wing writers and politicians—who defend the racists, colonialists and slavers of the British Empire of the past—to denounce Corbyn for writing a foreword on Hobson.
For them, Corbyn’s real crime is that he has stood against the West’s wars.
Finkelstein writes, “Anyone puzzled that Mr Corbyn has chosen to boycott the state dinner for Donald Trump while being content to dine with ropier individuals will find that reading this foreword is time well spent.
“It provides one of the clearest accounts of the Labour leader’s thinking about Britain and its allies.”
Finkelstein attacks Corbyn because the Labour leader thinks that imperialism “was driven by the great European finance houses which found themselves with excess capital due to insufficient home demand.”
“Seeking new markets, they invested abroad and required military support to protect their investment,” he explains.
But it’s true that The City of London and its domination in world investments was at the centre of British imperial power.
Hobson had begun looking at the role of finance when he reported for the Manchester Guardian newspaper on the Second Boer War. That war saw Britain conquer land in what is now South Africa.
Hobson focused his ire on the “Randlords”—the business magnates who owned diamond and mining interests in South Africa from the 1870s. Their vast corporations were finance houses—as well as mining companies—whose need to maximise profit drove imperial expansion in the area.
The global system of imperialist rivalry described by Lenin is still responsible for wars today
A lot of criticism of the Randlords was cloaked in antisemitism and Hobson saw it in those vile terms.
Hobson also describes the real power of the banks and financial interests in antisemitic terms.
“Does anyone seriously suppose that a great war could be undertaken by any European State, or a great State loan subscribed, if the house of Rothschild and their connexions set their face against it?" he wrote.
But the theory of imperialism—and the explanation of the Boer War—still stands.
Lenin’s writing on imperialism completely discarded antisemitism. He praised Hobson for identifying the development of capitalism and competition between rival capitalist states as being behind the drive to war.
The global system of imperialist rivalry described by Lenin is still responsible for wars today. It led to a million dead in Iraq, the destruction of Syrian society and the slave camps of Libya.
Corbyn was right to stand against it.