Eric Lee (Solidarity 570) reports that he quit the Labour Party when he saw antisemitism there in recent years, and has only now rejoined. He identifies the argument against Jewish members quitting Labour as one that, despite mistakes, Labour “has consistently fought against all forms of racism” and for “genuine equality and respect”.
That argument would make it naive to join Labour in the first place. In the very first years of the Labour Party, high-profile Labour figures, including on the left, denounced the Boer war as generated by “Jewish financiers”. They supported the anti-Jewish-immigration law of 1905, the Aliens Act.
Steve Cohen, in his 1984 bookThat’s Funny, You Don’t Look Antisemitic, records that: “From 1892, the TUC was formally committed to a resolution excluding Jews… The issue of immigration control was included in a list of questions to be asked of all Parliamentary candidates... the TUC sent a delegation to the Home Secretary demanding control”.
That progress was eventually made against that antisemitism (rife among Liberals, too) depended on the left-wingers, including Jewish leftists, who stayed in the movement and fought against it.
Then again, a recent article in Solidarity recounted how many trade-unionists supported “colour bars” on the rail for example. That was turned round by activists, including black activists, who stuck in there and fought.
In September a report commissioned by the GMB union found the union to be “institutionally sexist”, with misogyny rife. GMB women activists are fighting to reform the union, rather than quitting.
We are in the labour movement not because of an illusion that it is enlightened, democratic, and socialist by automatic guarantee. We are there because the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves, and that can happen only if activists both educate ourselves and stick at it, in the movement, to raise the culture.
Colin Foster, London
Langston Hughes set to music
Given the interest shown in American poet, novelist, and social activist Langston Hughes in Solidarity recently, readers might be interested in listening to the albumVari-Colored Songs by Layla McCalla. The album is a tribute to Langston Hughes, and Layla puts seven of his poems to music on it. The rest of the tracks are largely traditional material heavily influenced by music from Haiti.
Layla is a native New Yorker singer and multi-instrumentalist whose parents migrated to NYC from Haiti. Langston Hughes spent several months in Haiti in the 1930’s and was to go on to write the libretto for Troubled Island, an opera about the Haitian Revolution. He would also do readings of his work at the legendary Village Vanguard accompanied by the equally legendary jazz virtuoso Charlie Mingus.
Barrie Hardy, Liverpool