David Hirsh: My Labour Party Resignation

Personally, I have had enough of being humiliated by antisemitism in the Labour movement. I have fought it for years, in the student movement in the academic unions and in the Labour Party. I won’t subject myself to it any longer.

Politically, the most important thing to me at the moment is democracy. I mean by that our democratic states in which we look after each other and our civil society in which we are free to do what we choose.

I mean the principle that human beings are in a fundamental sense of equal value, and so opposition to discrimination against people on the basis of their designated race, gender, sexuality, religion or nation is a fundamental principle.

I mean a free economy, within a legal framework which nurtures creativity, vibrancy and efficiency and which also which sets out terrains in which enterprises agree not to compete: like health and safety, holiday pay, maternity leave, equality and workers’ rights. A democratically calibrated and constrained free economy is the most successful way of combating inequality.

I mean international trade, cosmopolitan institutions and universal friendship; I mean democracy and democratic rights and values across the world; and solidarity with those fighting for them.

I mean a high quality and efficient National Health Service; I mean excellent education available to all; and I mean a safety net which looks after people when they are unable to look after themselves.

I mean freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association and free trade unions.

I mean the democratic right to pursue happiness and to make one’s own relationships and networks.

Antisemitism threatens Jews but it is also always an indicator of the ascendancy of an anti-democratic political culture in any community in which it is tolerated.

I am afraid of the rise of populist politics which I understand as a set of radical threats to democracy as described above. Populist movements try to harness the politics of fury and resentment for the political advancement of those who assume the right to speak for ‘the people’ and to treat those they don’t like as ‘enemies of the people’.

Populism replaces debate and respect for knowledge with an essentialism which designates people as enemies not because of what they say or do but because of who they are.

The Corbyn movement, which is well entrenched in the Labour Party, is such a movement. The Brexit movement which is well entrenched in the Tory Party, and in the Corbyn faction too, is also a populist movement. Both Labour and the Tories are trying to ride the tiger of populism and are prepared to risk British democracy and prosperity to do so. The tiger will maul them and it will maul us all in the end.

Jihadi Islamism and other fundamentalists are also radical critiques of democracy of a related kind.

Populism sees nothing of value in existing society and it promises to tear everything down and to begin again from zero; experience shows that it is easier to destroy than to create.

I want to be part of a movement which defends democratic principles, as outlined above, and which defends us against the populist threats, also as outlined above.

This is not a conservative manifesto. There is nowhere near enough democracy in our world. The defence and creation of democratic states and movements is a programme for radical change; and for radical change in what people are enthusiastic about. And it is urgent.

There are many other issues which people take seriously and with justification; the threat of climate change for example. Addressing these requires democracy. Without that, we’re finished. But within that framework we can decide, together, what needs to be done.

I do not want Jeremy Corbyn to be the next Prime Minister; he is so wedded to antisemitic politics that he has been quite unable to address the antisemitic culture which he imported into the Labour mainstream. And that is linked to his anti-democratic worldview. While Corbyn himself may not be around for very long as leader, his politics and his culture will be, in my judgement.

Some have argued that if democratic people, not least democratic Jews, leave the Labour Party then this will allow free reign to those who embrace antisemitic and proto-totalitarian politics.

Yes, if we leave, that is what will happen. But it happens when we don’t leave too. So now people who consider themselves socialists will have to take responsibility for the culture in their own movement. Because I’m done. And I think most other Jews are done too.

David Hirsh is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London and author of 'Contemporary Left Antisemitism'.

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