…by Gilad Atzmon, London
“I’ve gotten some of my best light from bridges I’ve burned.”… Don Henley
What does it take, in an era dominated by progressive identity politics, to be accepted as a fully qualified member of the Left?
Jane is a London lawyer who identifies politically ‘as a woman,’ and marches enthusiastically for human rights. Can she join? I think the answer is yes, she can.
George is a medical doctor who happens also to be a black man and identifies as ‘Black middle class.’ Can he subscribe to a progressive email group and contribute to the discussion? I hope and suspect that he can.
And what about Julie? She runs an estate agency on the posh side of town but she also identifies as a ‘gay lesbian,’ can she join the parade? What a question! Of course she can.
Now Abe is an accountant and very attached to his Jewish heritage. Abe identifies as a ‘secular Jew,’ can he join the anti-war movement? More than likely he can, in fact he may even, within hours of his joining, find himself in a position of leadership.
But what about Hammed, a metal worker from Birmingham? Hammed identifies as a ‘Muslim’ — can he join a Left demonstration against the War in Syria? It’s a good question and the answer is not immediately obvious at all because it’s no secret that many of those who subscribe to ‘progressive’ ideology and indeed, activism, are rather troubled by religion in general and Islam in particular.
So, while Hammed is identifying with a universal and humanist precept, Jane, ‘the woman’, Julie ‘the Gay Lesbian’ and George ‘the Black’ openly subscribe to biologically-determined political identities. Furthermore, Abe, Identifying as a secular Jew, affiliates himself with a blood-based ethnocentric tribal identity. Clearly, the Left has no problem with such marginal and exclusivist political identities.
So, how is it possible that the contemporary Left discourse is sustained by people who, themselves subscribe to biologically-determined identity politics, yet so often reject similar, though often working class folk, who actually support equality and human rights issues?
Could it be that the Left has in fact, drifted away from working class politics into some vague and inconsistent pseudo-empathic discourse primarily engaged in sectarian battles? And there’s more.
Uri is an Israeli peace activist and writer who also identifies as an Israeli Leftist. Is Uri welcome within the progressive network?
The answer is unreservedly, yes.
But John Smith, an English bus driver from Liverpool is proud to be English and ‘as an Englishman’ he opposes the war because John actually believes that peace is patriotic. Can he join an anti-war protest and, while he’s at it, carry a Union Jack to demonstrations?
I leave the answer to you.
Tony is a ‘Jewish Socialist’ – certainly not religious but an ethnic Jew who identifies ‘as a Jew’ racially and ethnically. And by the way, Tony also operates politically within Jews-only anti-Zionist groups.
Now Tony is hugely welcome at most Left and progressive gathering. But can the same be said for Franz who identifies as an ‘Aryan socialist’? Again, I leave the answer to you.
The point is that yet again we detect a critical discrepancy in Left or progressive thinking. While Jewish ethnocentrism and even Jewish racial exclusivity is accepted, other forms of ethnocentrism are bluntly rejected. Is this a contradiction? You judge.
And, while we’re at it, what about Laura? She’s a Muslim convert who often hides her face behind the veil. Does she feel comfortable in ‘progressive’ gatherings? Not really. But Laura certainly supports human rights and equality almost as much as she loves Allah.
But the Left’s and progressives’ tolerance towards Allah worshippers is particularly limited while, on the other hand, worshippers of the Talmud who are willing to oppose Israel are, not only tolerated, they are positively welcomed.
Torah Jews, for instance, are often invited to progressive gatherings though, it must be said, they also encounter some resentment, especially from Jewish activists (This surely is because progressive Jews don’t like to be associated with people in caftans).
So it seems that membership of a progressive club is no straightforward matter because here we are here dealing with a discourse that is far from being open or inclusive. On the contrary, it is a pretty selective operation and far from being principled, coherent or universal.
No longer is it committed to ‘members’ of the ‘working class’ – unless they first demonstrate adherence to a predetermined tablet of ‘correct politics’.
So what are these ‘correct politics’? Where are they defined and by whom?
In order to address this question we have to first delve into the peculiar ‘progressive’ threshold that leaves the Muslim and the nationalist out yet happily embraces other biologically-determined political, and even racial categories.
Strangely enough, the mix that forms the Left alliance is suspiciously similar to the mix that sustains Liberal Zionist political power.
Is this a coincidence? Is it really that surprising that the Left, traditionally defined as a universal humanist discourse, is now supported politically and financially by a mixture of political identities that also lend their support to Israel and its rabidly nationalist, capitalist and ethnocentric ideology?
No, it’s not, so I guess that the growing similarity between the Left and Liberal Zionism alliance demands some explanation. I’ve managed to come with three possible answers.
1. The Spin – The similarity between the Liberal Zionist alliance and the Left compound is a complete coincidence and reveals nothing about either Zionism or Left ideology.
2. The Observant – The Left and Liberal Zionism are basically two faces of the same coin.
3. The Forensic – By following the money trail, we see that most Left groups and liberal Zionism (a la J-Street and practically the entire progressive network) are funded by the same organizations, leading amongst them being George Soros’ Open Society Institute.
If the last is true (and I think it is) it may as well mean that a large part of the ‘dissident’ network is sustained by….wait for it… a Wall Street hedge fund. In other words we are dealing here with an institutional and well-funded controlled opposition apparatus.
This may explain, what so often seems on the part of the Left and Progressive discourse generally, like complete dysfunction and utter impotence – whether in labour matters, domestic politics, foreign affairs, global wars and, of course, Palestine.
If the Left sees any reason to rescue itself — and this is indeed a big ‘if’ — it would first have to redeem itself from its greed and attachment to ‘big money.’ It may have to redefine for itself exactly what labour and ‘working class politics’ means for the workless.
Of course, it may just be that the Left has ended its political and ideological role, that basically, it belongs to the past. In other words, our capacity to think universally and ethically is now completely liberated from dialectical materialism or class division.
In the end, I doubt whether anyone within the progressive network possesses the intellectual capacity and ideological stamina to endure such a serious discussion.
I guess we’d just better move on.
Editing: Jim W. Dean
Gilad Atzmon is an Israeli-born British jazz saxophonist, novelist, political activist and writer.
Atzmon’s album Exile was BBC jazz album of the year in 2003. Playing over 100 dates a year, he has been called “surely the hardest-gigging man in British jazz.” His albums, of which he has recorded nine to date, often explore the music of the Middle East and political themes. He has described himself as a “devoted political artist.” He supports the Palestinian right of return and the one-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
His criticisms of Zionism, Jewish identity, and Judaism, as well as his controversial views on The Holocaust and Jewish history have led to allegations of antisemitism from both Zionists and anti-Zionists. A profile in The Guardian in 2009 which described Atzmon as “one of London’s finest saxophonists” stated: “It is Atzmon’s blunt anti-Zionism rather than his music that has given him an international profile, particularly in the Arab world, where his essays are widely read.”