Livingstone, Green, anti-Semitism and racism

How could Ken Livingstone, an experienced politician make so crass a mistake? He did not actually blame individuals, but he did condemn Zionism, and by implication all Zionists. There could be a long discussion on the pros and cons of Zionism, and some of its deplorable, but not inevitable consequences in practice, but what for me is particularly preposterous is the logical proposition: Hitler was in favour, therefore  it must be wrong. Wasn’t he vegetarian? It is not even relevant that Hitler’s opinion on Zionism was purely tactical, to be taken no more seriously than any of his other policy positions or promises. The benefit of the doubt, for example  by Chamberlain, was understandable, but it is inexcusable with hindsight.

Anti-semitism should be differentiated from other forms of racism, which is a natural, albeit primitive, tribal response to the perceived threat of shortages. Although co-operation would be the norm within a tribe, co-operation with other tribes would be unusual, even where rational thought would suggest it as preferable to warfare and genocide. That is where racism can lead if the resource problem is not solved. In case this seems extreme, in his book The Rise and Fall of the third Chimpanzee, Jared Diamond  identified  17 instances of genocide between 1492 (Columbus’s discovery of America) and 1990. There have been two since the book was published – Rwanda and Srebrenica. In passing, I am in favour of staying in the EU, despite its need for reform, on the grounds that co-operation is essential.

Although within Israel there is very much a resources issue, by outsiders Israelis are primarily seen as oppressors, and this is why there is a dangerous risk of conflating them with capitalists,. Although this conflation is rarely, if ever explicit, I believe it is responsible for the serious mistake made by many Labour Party members. Livingstone  is merely the highest profile. The mindset that my enemy’s enemy is my friend  does not help. A frightening insight into how this could develop is given in this Jewish reporter’s experiences in Bradford. Naz Shah’s outburst is understandable in that context, but her apology in the light of the whole background is creditable, and heartening.

One hopeful sign that anti-semitism has not yet penetrated too far is that no one has linked Philip Green’s ultra capitalist antics to the fact that he is Jewish. Having lived through some quite dramatic shifts in cultural norms, I believe that such a connection would not have seemed off limits when Alf Garnett (merely a TV character) was, er, discussing these issues in the 1970s. Ostensibly lampooning racist attitudes, the laughter indicated a disturbingly different public reaction. A  person’s behaviour must always be judged individually, but the cases of sex abuse in Rotherham show that  this is not always easily disentangled from cultural aspects.

The fact remains that the BHS collapse, with Green and Dominic Chappell as the main players, is the epitome of capitalism at its worst. Both knowingly took enough from the company to settle the pension shortfall, in Green’s case buying a third yacht from the proceeds. This is where the Citizens’ Basic Income comes in.  It will of course have to be world wide, or at least some arrangement will have to be made so that Green and Chappell do not escape paying the necessary extra tax by joining  Mrs.Green in Monaco. But if everybody has basic needs guaranteed, pension funds will only be needed as a top up, and can be much smaller.

But there are two wider implications of the basic Income. Do either Green or Chappell feel any guilt or remorse? Personally I doubt it. Bob Diamond famously said the bankers should stop apologizing, having wrecked the economy but having ensured that they were not themselves seriously inconvenienced. Like Livingstone in the Labour Party, they are merely the high profile examples, in their case of a culture which sees nothing wrong in regarding those less fortunate as prey. It is our own fault for not being as clever as they are. Quite apart from its transformative  practical effect, a basic Income will start the necessary cultural shift, so that once again these attitudes become as unacceptable as they would have been in the 1940s and 50s. Just as no one would now openly link Green’s behaviour to his race even if they thought it was relevant, Bob Diamond will no doubt still think the same about bankers apologizing, but would not dare say it once the culture shift has taken place.

But the other fundamental way in which the Basic Income is relevant is to ways of de-fusing oppression. I confess I cannot yet see much light at the end of the tunnel in Israel, at least whilst the populations on both sides keep expanding, but the Basic income does offer some hope in the case of capitalist oppression. The BHS saga is a classic example, but defeating the  capitalists is not going to happen, at least not before they have pumped too much CO2 into the ecosphere. The Basic Income, and the change in attitudes, will ensure that for slightly less profits, the rich can remain richer than the rest of us, but everyone not only has basic needs, but can aspire to whatever they are capable of, just like Philip Green did.

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