Comments, EdgeNotes, In Focus

Labour, Anti-Semitism and Human Nature

Jeremy Corbyn is in trouble because he is accused of not responding adequately to accusations of anti-semitism within the Labour Party.


Photo Wikimedia Commons

Steve Latham


Anti-Semitic, that is anti-Jewish, statements by local councillors, and support for these people, perhaps naively, by national party leaders, have exposed anti-semitic tendencies on the Left.

Corbyn has admitted there are ‘pockets’ of anti-semitism in Labour, and has asserted that such prejudice is unacceptable in the Party.

But he has only done so as a general condemnation of racism as such, not anti-semitism as a specific case.

It may be that the crisis is revealing Corbyn’s political ineptitude, that he is so principled, he does not know the meaning of ‘compromise’.

Past commitments by him to the Palestinian cause, for example, have led to suspicion by Jewish organisations that he is biased against, not only the State of Israel, but Jewish people as such.


Some of his supporters, meanwhile, suspect that the furore has been orchestrated, by right-wing media and centrists within Labour, to oust Corbyn from his leadership position.

However, the dispute exposes weaknesses in the dominant mode of political discourse among western Leftist parties, and that is the trope of ‘victimhood’.

From different points of view, many of us can switch suddenly from being the oppressed to being the oppressor.

For example, from the perspective of Twentieth Century European history, the Jews are victims par excellence.

But, from the standpoint of Palestinian refugees, the Jews, through the policies of the Israeli State, appear to be violent oppressors.

Jeremy Corbyn. Photo Pixabay

The same person, judged in a different set of relationships, may be simultaneously oppressed and oppressor, depending on who they are measured against.

It all depend on our social location, which can shift along the political register, in a cross-crossing pattern, which complexifies any simple dualism of opposing single groups.

We enter a confused postmodern birds-nest, replacing the modernist model of, for example, Frederick Engel’s famous ‘parallelogram of forces’.

Here the contemporary notion of ‘intersectionality’ may be relevant as we navigate through the philosophical thicket.

This theory asserts it is necessary to ‘check our privilege’, because there are a variety of privileged positions, from which any of us may operate.

The problem is that each of us possesses the potential to inflict damage on other human beings. It is easy for us suddenly to switch from victim to predator, depending on context.

But while there may, for example, be psychological reasons why some abused children become child abusers, it is still shocking that some go on to perpetrate the same pain they themselves suffered.

Photo Wikimedia Commons

It must lead us to a meditation on human nature.

For most analyses do not go deep enough. Like a patient consulting a doctor, or a car owner going to a mechanic, we need an accurate diagnosis.

For this, we need a radical approach. The word ‘radical’ comes from the Latin, radix, meaning ‘root’. To be radical, therefore, entails going to the root of the problem.

But, how deep do human depravity and cupidity really go?

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