Main menu:

Recent posts




To help keep HP running


Or make a one-off donation:

Ben White Revisited

This is a cross-post from Large Blue Footballs

Earlier this week, Gary Lineker retweeted Ben White, who had himself posted a video from B’Tselem which showed Israeli soldiers arresting Palestinian youths*. I tweeted some thoughts in response. As I result, I have had people defending Ben White on my Twitter feed, praising his work as “forensic” and referring to him as “leading academic.” Back in 2009, shortly after the publication of the first edition of White’s book, ‘Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide’, I wrote a piece for the American Jewish Committee’s now defunct ‘Z-Word’ blog. The time has come to revisit what I wrote.

My ‘Z-Word’ piece focused on two issues.

The first was some of the sources that White used. These included a number of discredited writers, including Uri Davis, Tanya Reinhart, Jeff Halper and Ilan Pappe. This is what I wrote at the time (emphasis mine throughout; I have updated some of the links):

“Uri Davis, as well as being an observer member of the PLO, helped to promote the antisemitic play ‘Perdition’ in the 1980s, which claimed that Zionist leaders collaborated with the Nazis in perpetrating the Holocaust. One of the central claims of Davis’ 1987 book Israel: An Apartheid State, namely that Arabs are banned from buying or leasing land in 92% of pre-1967 Israel, has long since been shown to be false. (White himself does not repeat the 92% claim and relies on Davis’ 2003 book Apartheid Israel, rather than on the 1987 book. Nevertheless, Davis’ track record hardly inspires confidence.)

The work of the late Tanya Reinhart is pulled apart in Paul Bogdanor’s and Edward Alexander’s book, ‘The Jewish Divide over Israel: Accusers and Defenders’.

Alex Safian looked at Jeff Halper’s ‘ track record of material distortions. Werner Cohn accused Halper of trying to ‘hide and deceive’. Tom Segev was accused by Michael B Oren of ‘twisting his text to meet a revisionist agenda’.

And then of course there is Ilan Pappe. Pappe was described as a ‘charlatan‘ by Yoav Gelber. Efraim Karsh labeled one of Pappe’s books as ‘disgraceful‘. Ricki Hollander examined Pappe’s ‘record of promoting blatant misinformation’, particularly with reference to the Tantura massacre hoax. Benny Morris wrote an emphatically devastating three-part review of Pappe’s A History of Modern Palestine (here, here and here). Morris concluded: This truly is an appalling book. Anyone interested in the real history of Palestine/Israel and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would do well to run vigorously in the opposite direction.’ Reviewing Pappe’s later book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Seth Frantzman accused Pappe of ‘flunking history’: ‘As a work of scholarship, Pappé’s book falls short, and it does so in a particularly damning way. He ignores context and draws far broader conclusions than evidence allows by cherry-picking some reports and ignoring other sources entirely. He does not examine Arab intentions in the five months between the U.N. endorsement of Palestinian partition and Israel’s independence, nor does he consider the widespread public statements by Arab officials in Palestine and in neighboring states declaring their goal of eradicating the Jewish presence in Palestine. It is obvious why a polemicist such as Pappé would cleanse — so to speak — his narrative of any such references: To avoid doing so would strike at the core of the reality that he wishes to foist upon his readers, one which precisely inverts the historical record and turns a coordinated Arab attempt at ethnically cleansing Palestine of its Jews into a Jewish attempt at ethnically cleansing Arabs. Just to cap it all, there was the interview Pappe gave to the German neo-Nazi newspaper Die National Zeitung. Yet none of this stopped White from citing Pappe as an authoritative source, or from (presumably) sending Pappe a preview copy of his book for Pappe to write a commendation.

Of course, all of this begs the question: why does White treat all these sources as authoritative? After all, if you are aiming to write a ‘highly readable introduction’ for ‘beginners’, surely you owe it to them to use the most reliable sources possible; or, at the very very least, to give some sort of acknowledgement that the sources you do use have been (vigorously) contested. White does neither, for which there can surely be only two possible explanations. Either he knew that many of his sources are discredited but decided to cite them anyway – which would suggest a lack of integrity on his part. Alternatively, it’s because he didn’t know that they were discredited, which would suggest he is not quite the specialist his own website suggests. Either way, his use of these sources, without any qualifications or caveats, is a damning indictment of his work.”

The second issue I addressed was Ben White’s response to those who criticised him for using a false quote. It is quite technical, so I commence with some background on Israeli historiography.

i. In his 1988 book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949, the Israeli ‘New Historian’ Benny Morris claimed that, in a 1937 letter to his son, David Ben-Gurion had written, “We must expel Arabs and take their places.”

ii. In his 2000 book, Fabricating Israeli History: The New Historians (and elsewhere), Efraim Karsh argued that Morris had falsified this quote, and that Ben-Gurion had actually written the exact opposite.

iii. On page 142 of his 2001 book, Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict 1881-2001, Morris rendered the quote as follows: “We do not want and do not need to expel Arabs and take their places.” He thereby implicitly accepted Karsh’s point.

iv. Fast forward to 2009: Ben White opened the second chapter of his book with the quote, “We must expel Arabs and take their places”, which he ascribed to Ben-Gurion. This, of course, was the earlier version of the quote, as initially rendered by Benny Morris; not the later version of the quote as rendered by Karsh and then apparently accepted by Morris as well.

v. Unsurprisingly, White was criticised for using what had been exposed as a fake quote.

vi. This is how White responded to such criticism at the time (emphasis added):

‘The quotation which I am quite prepared to reconsider is from the beginning of Part I, when I cite Ben-Gurion writing, “We must expel Arabs and take their places”. The first prominent historian to include this quotation was Benny Morris, in The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem. This quotation was subsequently questioned by historian Efraim Karsh, who analysed the meaning of the hand-written edits in the original document. Morris accepted this point, and in Righteous Victims (2001), cited the quotation as: “We do not want and do not need to expel Arabs and take their places”.

vii. This response, however, raised more questions than it answered, inviting closer scrutiny. Such scrutiny would leave White facing difficult questions.

viii. Was White being charitable and gracious when he said that he was ‘quite prepared to reconsider’ the quote? The internal evidence in the first edition of his book would suggest otherwise.

ix. In the first edition of Israeli Apartheid, White referenced Morris’ 2001 Righteous Victims twice, on page 82 and page 121. He also referred to that book twice in his ‘Select Bibliography’ on page 164.

x. This is important, because it shows that White was aware of Righteous Victims when he wrote the first edition of Israeli Apartheid. He therefore had no excuses for not being aware of what Morris had acknowledged as being the correct version of the Ben-Gurion quote. Yet it was only in his response to criticism of his book, rather than in the book itself, that White acknowledged this.

xi. This leads to the pressing question: why did White include what he later recognised to be a false quote? There can surely be only two possible explanations.

x. The first explanation runs like this. White referenced Righteous Victims twice, and included it in his select bibliography, but somehow managed to miss the bit where Morris included the accurate version of the Ben-Gurion quote. If this is the case, then the kindest thing that could be said of White is that his scholarship was sloppy.

xi. The second explanation goes like this. White was aware of the correct version of the quote, but (perhaps gambling on the ignorance of the ‘Beginners’ at whom his book was aimed) decided to include the fake version of the quote anyway. If that is the case, then the kindest that could be said of White is that he knowingly misled his readers.

xii. Only White himself knows which of these two explanations is correct. But the conclusions are inescapable. If White was sloppy enough in his scholarship to include Righteous Victims in his select bibliography but somehow overlook the correct version of the Ben-Gurion quote, this makes it difficult to take him seriously on anything else. Alternatively, if he knowingly misled his readers – knowing what Ben-Gurion actually wrote, but including a false version of the quote regardless – this makes it difficult to take him seriously on anything else.

xiii. There is little to suggest that Ben White’s handling of evidence and source material has improved since 2009. Those who still describe him as a serious scholar, invite searching questions about their own awareness and/or motives.

(*Some will no doubt respond to this piece by accusing me of shooting the messengers and/or deflecting from the real issues. For the avoidance of doubt:

1. The ongoing settlement project and Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank is problematic.
2. The narrative presented by B’Tselem is also problematic, for the reasons outlined here .
3. Giving credibility to Ben White is problematic, even if the video he tweets portrays actual events (albeit only part of the story).

The three things are neither equally problematic, nor problematic in the same way. But all three problems nevertheless need to be taken seriously.)

Greater Manchester Police and “Tolerance”

Imagine a man has been recorded on video singing the praises of Thomas Mair, who murdered Jo Cox MP. Next thing you know, the man is being feted by the police in the name of “tolerance”. It would be an utterly absurd and offensive spectacle.

Now step away from that scenario and into reality. Here you will see Greater Manchester Police hailing “interfaith tolerance” at a “lovely” meeting with the Pakistani preachers and father and son Naqeeb ur Rehman and Hassan Haseeb ur Rehman.

Labour MP Afzal Khan is also keen on the Rehmans. Here he is all happy clappy with the preachers on another visit earlier this year.

Well, here is Haseeb ur Rehman shouting his support for Mumtaz Qadri, the man who assassinated Pakistani politician Salman Taseer in 2011 for “blasphemy”. A big picture of Qadri is on the wall behind Rehman. His father is seated beneath it, watching his son’s agitated speech with approval.

Here is Haseeb ur Rehman speaking at Mumtaz Qadri’s funeral.

These hate preachers have been exposed before. Last summer, two of Taseer’s children expressed their fury when the Rehmans were welcomed to the UK in another tour which even took in Lambeth Palace.

Taseer’s son, Shahbaz, 33, who was recently freed after being kidnapped and held captive by Islamists for four years, criticised British authorities for allowing the clerics into the country.

“Firstly they are not preachers. A preacher in Islam is a person who spreads the message of Allah, just like the Prophet, through peaceful means. You cannot force your view on someone else. This is the basic foundation of Islam,” he told IBTimes UK in an emailed statement.

“These people teach murder and hate. For me personally I find it sad that a country like England would allow cowards like these men in. It’s countries like the UK and the US that claim they are leading the way in the war against terror [and] setting a standard. Why are they allowing people [in] that give fuel to the fire they are fighting against?

His brother, Shehryar, 30, added: “They supported and incited my father Salmaan Taseer’s murder. The UK government should deport them and Pakistan should prosecute them for the incitement of violence under the terrorism act.”

“I find it disrespectful that a man like this has been entertained by the Archbishop. My family has been on the front lines when it comes to inter-faith harmony and these people disrespect anyone and everyone who speaks about religious harmony.”

For Pakistani liberals, grubby and foolish betrayal has become a norm in British officialdom. For shame.

Victory for decency in Alabama

There is much to be said about the narrow but astonishing victory of Democrat Doug Jones over Republican Roy Moore in the special election for the US Senate in Alabama on Tuesday.

This, after all, is a state where Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton a little more than a year ago by more than 27 percentage points.

Writing at The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein makes some important points:

Roy Moore was a uniquely flawed and vulnerable candidate. But what should worry Republicans most about his loss to Democrat Doug Jones in Tuesday’s U.S. Senate race in Alabama was how closely the result tracked with the GOP’s big defeats last month in New Jersey and Virginia—not to mention how it followed the pattern of public reaction to Donald Trump’s perpetually tumultuous presidency.

Jones beat Moore with a strong turnout and a crushing lead among African Americans, a decisive advantage among younger voters, and major gains among college-educated and suburban whites, especially women. That allowed Jones to overcome big margins for Moore among the key elements of Trump’s coalition: older, blue-collar, evangelical, and nonurban white voters.

Also critical to the result was the enthusiasm gap between Democratic and Republican voters:

Despite it being an off-year special election in December, Jones got 92 percent of Clinton’s vote total. Moore just got 49 percent of Trump’s.

As pleasing as this rebuke of Trump (who went all in for Moore) and Trumpism is, it would be wrong for Democrats to conclude that they can do without any support at all from white blue-collar and rural voters. That’s a recipe for continued defeat in large areas of the country– such as the part of Virginia where I live. And that’s one reason why Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown is my favorite for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020.

I suppose every Harry’s Place reader knows about the multiple credible accounts of Moore’s creepy behavior with teenage girls– including with a 14-year-old when he was in his 30s. But before he rides off into the sunset, I want to call attention to one of the less-reported remarks among the many outrageous things he has spouted.

Earlier in the campaign, Moore, who has been accused of sexual misconduct, attacked [Jewish billionaire George] Soros for “pushing an agenda” that the candidate described as “sexual in nature.”

Moore did not explain what he meant by “sexual.” But he went on to say of Soros that “No matter how much money he’s got, he’s still going to the same place that people who don’t recognize God and morality and accept his salvation are going. And that’s not a good place.”

This apparently was one reason his wife felt it necessary to make the tone-deaf declaration at Moore’s final campaign rally that “one of our attorneys is a Jew.”

It’s possible to criticize Soros without turning him into some omnipotent demon responsible for all the problems of Western civilization. That elides too easily into antisemitism– as does the suggestion that Jews are destined to burn in hell for eternity because they don’t recognize “[God's] salvation.”

The PSC Lied

In a statement put up on their Facebook page the Palestine Solidarity Campaign claimed the following;

Unsurprisingly they’re lying. The chants took place throughout the demonstration. It’s not the first time they’ve refused to respond to the problems in their ranks. In fact it’s an ongoing theme with them. From David Collier’s report that they point blank refused to take seriously, to Tapash abu Shaim staffing their stall at Labour Party Conference (not to mention still being on their NEC) this is a movement that if it took serious action against antisemitism in its midst would have to clear out some its most important activists.

Here’s the proof that the above is just a lie:

Labour MP Andy Slaughter at the Khaybar Hatred March

Labour MP Andy Slaughter is not one to miss a proper Israel hatred session with his Islamist and far left friends.

Sure enough, it appears that he spoke at Friday’s “Hands Off Jerusalem” demonstration in London.

As you know, an ugly crowd at the demonstration turned to chanting “Khaybar” to express their murderous hatred. Massacring Jews? Yay, bring it on! There were also “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” chants and that old favourite, “with our blood and our souls we sacrifice ourselves for you oh Palestine!”.

This comes as no surprise. Slaughter has long been close to the Palestinian Forum in Britain (PFB), a Hamas front with a chilling record of promoting some of the very worst hate preachers. The PFB was one of the organisers of the demonstration on Friday.

Here he is heading up another hatred march. To his right is Hafiz al-Karmi, the head of the PFB.

In the picture above one can also see Ismail Patel, the crazed Israel hater and Hamas supporter of “Friends of al-Aqsa”, another organiser of Friday’s demonstration. Here’s a picture of Mr Slaughter supporting Patel’s outfit.

Here is Mr Patel bellowing for Hamas and berating the BBC and the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

Slaughter is very keen on the antisemitic rabble known as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), another organiser of Friday’s demonstration. Here he is at a PSC meeting, sharing the platform with the disgraced Islamist Daud Abdullah (on the right).

Slaughter is also a good friend of the al-Muntada mosque in his constituency. No wonder. It is dedicated to shockingly hardcore Salafi hatred. Bring them to Parliament!

There is more to say about Mr Slaughter’s illustrious career but I think that’s enough to give you a picture.

I do have an urgent question for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. Why isn’t a man with such a stellar record being elevated to the top ranks of the party, where he would be such a natural?

Irrelevant England and the Thick Brexiteer

This is a cross-post from Order of the Coif

I’ve always felt that keeping two sets of books was one of life’s great pleasures; hunting with the hounds and running with the hares, as it were. One of my fondest memories is of going from a hard-fought trade union branch meeting, where we (moderates) were slugging it out in a factional battle with the Tankies for control of the branch committee, straight to meet with a Tory friend at the Travellers Club for dinner. I call him a reactionary, imperialist ‘running dog’, he calls me a Stalinist apparatchik, and we get on famously and put the world to rights.

I would argue, though, that it’s not simply a matter of enjoying a few ironic social contrasts. Being able to understand other people’s points of view requires, to some degree, being able to empathise with them and put yourself in their shoes, even if only to understand the thoughts that lie behind their decisions and their actions. It also tends to encourage at least a degree of critical thinking about one’s own views, ideas and assumptions.

In the immortal words of John le Carre, via the fictional mouth of Roy Bland in Tinker, Tailor, “As a good socialist I’m going where the money is, as a good capitalist I’m sticking with the revolution”.

And I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, too; it’s entirely possible for two people to look at the same set of facts and come to different conclusions, in good faith.

This is a tendency I tend to associate with intelligent people, or at least I did associate it with intelligent people. I have unfortunately noticed that people I respect, intelligent people, no longer seem to practice this tendency when it comes to the Brexit debate. It has become so tribal, so uber-partisan, that it is rare to see cool-headed, sensible debate and rational analysis. Everything has become so shouty and insufferable that I’m starting to switch off from it.

How could they be so stupid?

Do read the rest of this post here

At the heart of Labour’s antisemitism problem

The Weekly Worker has published a breakdown of an event held by the new campaigning group within the Labour Party called Labour Against the Witch hunt or LAW.

Jacquie “no definition of antisemitism I can work with” Walker is the chair of the group and Tony Greenstein is her deputy. This is a group composed of people who take for granted that the expulsions and suspensions of individuals from the Labour Party on the grounds of antisemitism are nothing more than a witch hunt and they’ve decided to organise in order to prevent Labour Party members from being suspended for something so petty as antisemitism.

According to the article the group has the following three demands;

  • End ‘auto-exclusion’ from Labour and reinstate all those thus excluded.
  • Abolish the compliance unit. Disciplinary action must be taken only by elected bodies.
  • Define ‘anti-Semitism’ – the pretext used for a good proportion of the exclusions and suspensions – straightforwardly and clearly (and certainly not in accordance with pro-Zionist definition put out by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance).

I know what you’re thinking and yes this is seriously happening.

There were 30 people in attendance representing at least three different groups. The meeting included a discussion on the participation within LAW of Socialist Fight (SF). The steering committee had taken the decision to exclude SF from the campaign because of the group’s position on Jews, which can only be described as anti-Semitic even by them. Their leader is an antisemite called Gerry Downing who can’t stop talking about the Jewish question which means he differs from other members of Socialist Fight in no way whatsoever;

SF declares that Jewish “overrepresentation” amongst the bourgeoisie is a major factor explaining imperialist backing for Israel. At the meeting itself SF’s Ian Donovan stated that, while this “overrepresentation” “doesn’t determine everything”, it “determines quite a lot”. He also talked about the undue influence of “Jewish communalist politics”, while the SF leaflet handed out at the meeting stated that “Jews” today have become “an oppressor people”. Please note the below, the emphasis on phrases is my own;

The SC [steering committee] sought approval from the meeting for its decision to exclude SF from LAW – on the basis that a campaign which places a large emphasis on its opposition to the disgraceful, knowingly false accusations of ‘anti-Semitism’ wielded by the right against principled anti-racists should not itself tolerate individuals whose public pronouncements are clearly anti-Semitic. To do otherwise opens us up to claims that we cannot be taken seriously when we say the right’s accusations are nothing but smears – after all, it would then appear that we ourselves cannot tell the difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.

In short the only reason the steering committee wished to exclude Socialist Fight was for the sake of appearance. When the steering committee put the exclusion to a vote of the people in the room they lost;

One of the arguments that carried a good deal of weight amongst those who voted against was the claim that an organisation set up to oppose exclusions should not itself exclude people. SF’s own motion quoted the official (but largely ignored) Labour Party position that “the mere holding or expression of beliefs and opinions” should not be grounds for exclusion.

Walker and Greenstein are two people who have dedicated themselves to attacking that which they love the most.

Both are avowedly Labour and have devoted themselves to attacking the various structures of the party that they don’t like. One would think they’d be more content to help the party and campaign against the Tories but that’s not how they roll.

Walker is a former Vice Chair of Momentum, she now attacks it and founder Jon Lansman in her one woman show. Walker calls herself an anti racism campaigner yet devotes her time to attacking efforts the Labour Party makes to counter antisemitism.

Greenstein is even worse. The son of a rabbi he has dedicated himself to the Palestinian cause or rather to attacking Israel (anyone say Daddy issues?). He is so divisive he can’t even get himself readmitted to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign national executive. Year after year he stands for a position on their National Executive Council and fails. He proposes motions so extreme that even members of the NEC feel the need to speak against them. He is an ardent socialist yet, along with Walker, spends his time fighting against the hard left of the Labour Party that has now taken power.

Walker and Greenstein aren’t builders, they can’t put one brick on top of the other and end up with a house. They are dividers, they demolish. Ultimately the people who they hate the most are the ones with the most to gain from their continued involvement in the Labour Party.

LAW seem to be looking to hold a public launch at the end of January and of course Ken Loach is going to be attending, because how could he stay away from a meeting which might have antisemitism in it?

If anyone wants to go and email us a report of what happened let us know at [email protected]

In any case we shall be watching how this unfolds with a little interest.

Outside the US Embassy Shouts of Khayber, Khayber, ya Yahud

‘Minimum Utopia: The Socialism of Norman Geras’ by Alan Johnson

Norman Geras and Alan Johnson, 2006.

I made these remarks at the launch party for The Norman Geras Reader in London on 2 October 2017. The book includes my short essay, ‘On Geras’s Marxism’ – you can download it and the editorial introduction by Eve Garrard and Ben Cohen for free at iBooks (but please buy the book!).  Some background: I was a student of Norman’s from 1980-1983 when we were both Trotskyists. He was a member of the International Marxist Group and I was a member of Socialist Organiser. In 2006 we joined with others to co-write the Euston Manifesto – although I opposed the Iraq war and led South Lakeland Stop the War while Norman supported the war, a disagreement amongst the signatories not discussed here and a disagreement that was deliberately ignored at the time when we were falsely portrayed as the ‘pro-war left’. I am working on a study of Norman Geras’s socialism.


Bravo for the book, Ben and Eve! I was in Waterstones in Gower Street recently and found three of Norman’s books on the shelves – The Legacy of Rosa Luxemburg, Marx and Human Nature and The Literature of Revolution: Essays on Marxism (all half price in the Verso Flash Sale until December 31). With the appearance of The Norman Geras Reader perhaps we can hope for a renaissance of interest in his work.

Ben asked me to say a few words about Norman and his ideas. I’ll make three points. Two points about Norman as a teacher and intellectual. One about why  he is one of the socialist theorists we will need most in the twenty first century. And that’s what he was: a socialist theorist.

1. A real teacher

I was taught by Norman in the early 1980s at Manchester University. Norman was a real teacher, which is a rare thing. I recall he introduced us to Marx’s theory of value, and the difference between use value and exchange value by reference to his socks. He would begin by saying ‘they keep my feet warm’. They had a use value or, as the subtitle of the Reader puts it, ‘what’s there is there’. But Norman knew that what’s there on the surface is never everything that’s ‘there’. So he would also tell us that his socks cost him £1.99, and lead us into the mysteries of the commodity.

Talented in the classroom, I think he was almost unsurpassed as a teacher on the page. You can get a real education by reading his essays.  If you are willing to sit there, read and read again, pencil in hand, and to think hard and discuss critically what you find there, you will get a better education than you will from many university courses. I am sure I learned to think by reading The Legacy of Rosa Luxemburg.

I learnt what an argument was by reading it, and talking to Norman about it.  I wrote something about this experience in my short essay ‘On Geras’s Marxism’ that is included in the Reader: ‘It is the joy one feels when the clouds part, the sun shines, and the meaning and importance of theory becomes not just clear but part of one’s own flourishing. For those who have not read Geras-as-Marxist, that joy awaits.’

2. A model of intellectual seriousness

That brings me to the second thing I want to say. For me, he was a model of intellectual seriousness. I don’t mean he was po-faced. No one reading Normblog could think that. From Jazz to Jane, Old Trafford to Lords, Norm was, so to speak, up for it. I mean rather that his work was marked by meticulous exegesis, scrupulous critique and the creative development of whatever he was dealing with, including his own tradition, Marxism. He made you feel something of the seriousness of ideas. And Norman was also a real reader. Philip Roth once said that about Irving Howe: ‘Irving’s a real reader’. Well, Norman Geras read the ideas of others as well as anyone – Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg, Althusser, Rorty, Laclau and Mouffe. What Norman wrote about the travesties of Marxism that he saw proliferating might be a description of much of our intellectual culture today. He complained of ‘the quick casual disparagement, untroubled by the effort of serious proof or even advocacy’. That is often the ground tone these days. (See his essays for New Left Review here.)

3. A socialist theorist we need

The third and last thing I want to say is this. Norman is one of the socialist theorists we need most in the twenty first century. (So those of you who are now anti-socialists can play with your phones for a few minutes.) First, because of his theory of socialist agency; second, because of his theory of socialist ethics and third, because of his still-developing theory of the future socialist polity and society, summed up in his essay published in The Socialist Register, ‘Minimum Utopia: Ten Theses’, in my opinion one of the most compelling sketches of what we are fighting for.


His contribution to a theory of socialist agency is under appreciated. From the foundation stone laid in 1973 in his short essay ‘Marxism and Proletarian Self-Emancipation, in which he insisted that ‘the principle of self-emancipation is central not incidental to historical materialism’ to his 1994 New Left Review essay, ‘Democracy and the Ends of Marxism’, in which he usefully suggested we extend the constituency of socialism to what he called ‘the dispossessed and the impoverished, everyone struggling under the burden of some grave want’, he was always thinking about why socialists have been attracted to, and how socialists can avoid in future what Marx and Engels called ‘the old crap’. They meant that idea of socialism as the ‘enlightened’, ‘progressive’, and authoritarian imposition of a blueprint from above. This is Žižek’s ‘lost cause’. Norman refused to defend it, and few were as eloquent about why. The old crap is having a new lease of life today. Some of the ‘new communists’ seem to have learned little from the enormities of the twentieth century.


Second, there is Norman’s theory of socialist ethics. He stood for a moral realism, a notion set out in Marx and Human Nature and developed in many subsequent essays. This notion is more commonplace on the left today than it used to be, thanks in good part to him. What is this notion? That a proper conception of our transhistorical human nature, of our human needs and capacities, of the objective conditions of our flourishing, can serve us, and if wish to avoid the crimes committed by the left in the twentieth century should serve us as ‘an evaluative standard of normative judgment’. I think his attempted reconciliation of socialism as an ethic and as a science, of fact and value, of ‘is’ and ‘ought’, was a vitally important contribution that socialists should develop in both our critique of capitalism and our conception of socialism.

Minimum Utopia

Thirdly, he did much to make good a real deficit in socialist thinking by giving us a huge amount of real value with which to construct a socialist political theory. We can learn a lot from him about socialist political institutions, socialist values, and the socialist society.

In the end the name of his desire was ‘minimum utopia’. (Some of us recently discussed setting up a new journal called Minimum Utopia. Who knows. Maybe.) Minimum utopia is post-Gulag socialism and post-Holocaust socialism. Socialism, as he put it, in the shadow of catastrophe. A minimum utopia would be ‘a world cured of its most remediable deprivations and horrors’, a world that provides for its members ‘the material and social bases for a tolerably contented existence’ and from which ‘the gravest social and political evils familiar to us have been removed.’

Doesn’t sound like much? Well, Geras disagreed. He thought  it would be an immense good in itself. Yes, he thought it was a utopia that was sensible of our intrinsically mixed human natures. As Primo Levi put it, we are centaurs; the malign sits alongside the benign, and we need, in those shadows, to bear that in mind as we imagine the futures we are capable of.  But crucially he also pointed out that this minimum utopia – and I’ll be a little provocative at this point and add ‘”Gerasites” take note!’ – would amount to ‘so fundamental a transformation of economic wealth and power, and of the distributive norms relating to need, effort and reward that it is revolutionary in its scope’. So, yes, Norman did tell us socialists to begin negotiating articles of conciliation with egalitarian liberalism. But if I can be allowed another provocation, he never told us to negotiate articles of surrender with capitalism or the culture of liberal individualism which, he told us, underwrites ‘the contract of mutual indifference’.

He thought that we socialists still had an awful lot to teach liberals. He was right to do so.

For all those reasons, and more I don’t have time to discuss tonight, I think the legacy of Norman Geras will turn out to be of great importance for socialists in the future.

Stop Funding Hate – a media debate

Yesterday The Sun published a piece by Boris Johnson which opens on a fully justified note of alarm over the increasing dangers which face journalists worldwide.

So far in 2017 there have been 51 journalists murdered simply for doing their job, and 181 have been jailed.

However then he segued into an attack on Stop Funding Hate, a campaign which targets those who advertise in papers such as the Mail, the Express – and of course the Sun.

Here are the two headlines which preface Johnson’s short article:

Leftie activists trying to silence newspapers they dislike are attacking the very basis of our democracy

The misleadingly named ‘Stop Funding Hate’ campaign wants to shut down those whose views they dislike – an aim which should outrage all who care about freedom of expression

Stop Funding Hate is concerned with instances of racism and bigotry in these papers, the kind of stories which spread disinformation and help whip up hatred.  On Twitter, their key method is to juxtapose advertisements with lurid tabloid headlines – and ask the advertisers if they really think this is appropriate for their brand.  Recently, for example, they targeted Pizza Hut for joining forces with the Sun in a pizza giveaway promotion.

It seems pretty grotesque to compare the effects of this campaign with the truly chilling attacks on journalistic freedom in regimes around the world.  If the press is free to print any story which doesn’t fall outside the law, isn’t Stop Funding Hate also only exercising its own right to free expression? Their co-founder Richard Wilson writes:

The Daily MailDaily Express and The Sun are free to print whatever they like within the law. We too have a right to speak out. And if the press refuses to act in the public interest, then we as the public are entitled to exercise our rights, and make our voices heard.

It is not calling for government intervention or regulation – just seeking to give people more information on which to base their spending choices.  If the complaints about the tabloids are frivolous or unfair – and even if they are not – then advertisers and consumers are free to ignore their efforts. It could be argued that this is an excellent instance of the free market at work, something Boris Johnson might be expected to approve of. Isn’t perfect information a key feature of perfect competition?