Socialist Worker

Holocaust Day, something to fight for

by Michael Rosen
Issue No. 1682

I GUESS many a reader of Socialist Worker enjoys the fire of the Observer's columnist Nick Cohen. On Sunday he turned his attention to New Labour's announcement that 27 January will be Holocaust Day. Cohen loathes everything about the idea. He is nauseated by Labour politicians' hypocrisy commemorating persecution whilst mounting attacks on asylum seekers. He thinks that official memorials like this let modern leaders off the hook. It means they can be compassionate about the past whilst not giving a damn about the present.

He is sickened by the thought that good and innocent people's deaths should be used as some kind of therapy for our leaders. While he is absolutely right about our leaders' hypocrisy, I think he's absolutely wrong about the memorial day. And that is because he has forgotten the meaning of struggle. Put it this way — the Holocaust doesn't belong to this or that clique of politicians, go-getters, apologists and hypocrites. What use would it be for any liberal, left or socialist to walk around on 27 January holding our noses?

Who would be chuckling on the sidelines as we did so? The far right, the fascists and the neo-Nazis. Every year they spend millions trying to convince the world that the Holocaust never happened. And why do they do that? So that they can clean up the Nazis' image and make themselves seem as electable as that nice Mr Haider in Austria.

Our job isn't to boycott or to abstain from Holocaust memorials, days, exhibitions, festivals and the like. Our job is to get stuck in and make it what we want it to be.

If a Holocaust day starts to look like some sick Blairite festival then let's say so-not from the wings, but whilst marking those terrible times in our way on the very same day. So, instead of Cohen's high-minded aloofness, we can say any or all of these things. The Nazis were part of Western civilisation. They used the most advanced skills of their day to practice genocide, persecution, eugenics and imperialism. They came to power at a time of crisis in German and world capitalism. They appealed in particular to the big industrial capitalists.

The Nazis' first target was the best organised working class in the world. They buttressed their regime with scapegoating and race supremacy. When they began their imperialist adventures in Eastern Europe this developed into the world's worst known scientific programme of colonisation, enslavement, exploitation and genocide affecting hundreds of millions of people from Berlin to Moscow and beyond.

But we also say that none of this must ever happen again. So we look at how the Nazis secured power and the mistakes the left made, our disunity. We look at the Nazis' twin-track campaign — the ballot box and the boot. And we say to today's Nazis, 'You shall not pass. You won't come into our streets to terrorise, maim and kill.' Let's build for our own versions of Holocaust Day, and on our platforms will, I hope, be survivors, fighters, anti-racists and anti-fascists of all kinds. And, I hope too, Nick Cohen's asylum seekers telling it like it is in Blairite Britain.

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Sat 5 Feb 2000, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1682
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