There are two kinds of compromise: the strong compromise, and the weak.
The former is where you cede an interest to uphold a principle, the latter when you ignore your principles to further your interests.
The first is an important tool in all aspects of life, the second should almost always be avoided. Jeremy Corbyn should learn that lesson.
Twice in recent weeks Corbyn’s leadership has faced an opportunity to cede a point of principle in order to further – as they apparently see it – the interests of their party. Both times they have done so, both times were a huge mistake.
The first question is: What does “Antisemitism in the Labour party” actually mean?
Let’s start by acknowledging what it isn’t. Criticising the government of Israel is not antisemitic. Supporting Palestine in its struggle for emancipation and justice is not antisemitic. Opposing George Soros’s neoliberal crusade through his various NGOs is not antisemitic. Accusing a Blairite MP (who happens to be Jewish) of working hand in hand with the right-wing press to undermine Corbyn is not antisemitic. Claiming Hitler was a “zionist” may or may not be accurate, but it is not antisemitic. Even supporting the freedom of expression for a painter who makes a mural about the 1% that some third parties allege might appear to represent unflattering images of Jewish people(even though the artist denies it completely) is not antisemitic, unless specific intents can be established.
When we remove all these non-antisemitic incidents from the list of alleged “antisemitism” in the Labour Party, how much real antisemitism remains?
Very little to none would seem to be the answer. You might even argue there is less antisemitism within the Labour party than within the general population. Certainly there’s little evidence of any more. Ken Livingstone shows no signs of being antisemitic. Nor does the latest victim of the latest purge – Marc Wadsworth.
Wadsworth – a veteran anti-racism campaigner – has been expelled from the party for notionally being racist (it was actually “bringing the party into disrepute”, the evidence of racism was so little they couldn’t even officially call it that). He has been effectively sacrificed to appease the state-sponsored and state-supporting media in the UK.
This is a terrible mistake. By conceding this point of principle in order to gain a perceived strategic advantage Corbyn’s team have in fact conceded both principle and strategy to a force that has no interest in compromising with them and simply wants them gone. The result is this:
1. Labour’s right-wing, (who DO, demonstrably, work “hand in hand” with the anti-Corbyn press), have been allowed to define what “antisemitism” means, and they are going to take full advantage of this. From now on, any Labour MP or even grassroots member who criticises Israel’s genocide against the Palestinians – or who simply disagrees with another Labour member who happens to be Jewish – can look forward to being shamed and expelled. How does Corbyn see this as furthering the cause of freedom and democracy?
2. They have accepted the lie as truth. A man has been expelled for antisemitism. Even though the grounds are spurious, it will in future be cited as evidence that the left does indeed have a problem with antisemitism.
Corbyn’s team decided to play soft and weak, in the hopes that letting a little blood would sate the thirst of the media. But you don’t abate a feeding frenzy by chumming the water. You don’t compromise with the devil by selling a piece of your soul. They have made it immeasurably worse. Livingstone and Walker will follow, and slowly Corbyn’s allies in the party will be chipped away.
The same exact process is playing out with the “Russian interference” situation. When the first accusations of being “soft on Putin” were thrown around, the strong principled position to take would be to dismiss the smears as racist and stupid. Argue the issues, ignore the white noise of smear and innuendo.
Corbyn’s principles, and those of the Labour party, dictate that they should stand against prejudice, abuse, censorship and summary justice.
They COULD have made statements that RT is just as valid a medium to be interviewed on as the BBC or CNN. They could have pointed out that Russian money in London is fleeing Putin’s crackdown on the oligarchs. They could have stood by the truth, and to hell with what the press say.
Instead Corbyn’s camp saw a chance to score some easy points in the media. McDonnell decided to publicly denounce RT, whilst the “leftwing” press tried to attack the Tories for their “dirty” Russian donors.Instead of saying “this campaign of demonising Russians is degraded & offensive”, they said effectively “Yes, Russians are demons, but they like the Tories more than us!”
This is potentially a more egregious mistake than the antisemitism issue. Firstly, it endorses the quasi-racist idea that all things Russian are inherently tainted with evil. Secondly, it undermines RT, an important voice for alternative politicians in the UK. And it opens the gates to this:
This is the most predictable headline I have ever seen. It’s more predictable than sunrise or the tides or the waning moon. It was destined from the moment of his first leadership victory. And Corbyn has no one to blame but himself.
By allowing the “Russiagate” hysteria to blossom without challenge, by allowing the memes of “dirty Russian money” in London, and the “Russian influence” of the Brexit vote to go unchecked, Corbyn has encouraged the climate where people can be “denounced” in true McCarthyite fashion. And now he is paying the price.
Corbyn seems to think a few little compromises will get him accepted in the mainstream media. It pains me to say it, but this is fundamentally untrue. You can’t compromise with someone who wants nothing but your total destruction. Hopefully Corbyn has learned this lesson by now.
And truth in politics is important, it has power, not simply through its rarity. Corbyn’s power came from telling truths we all knew and no one else was saying, and he has undermined it by allowing convenient lies to stand.
You can’t build a greater truth on a foundation of small, convenient lies. When a person tells a lie, it is an act of weakness to allow it to stand. Responding “Yes, but”, does nothing but reinforce the initial dishonesty.
You cannot allow the deep state to use their tools in the media to set the narrative. You cannot try to meet them in the middle, because they’ll just use that leverage to pull you further over to their side. A half-truth is just a lie that lacks conviction, and by letting them slide you allow the media to set the width of the Overton window.
Jeremy Corbyn is a good man, his entire career – apparently his entire outlook on life – is built around principle. It’s those principles that got him elected leader and made him so popular. He should not compromise them now, in order to appease people who will never be appeased.