Thursday, August 09, 2007

From Russia with Hatred

THERE's been an interesting response to Labour's appointment of David Miliband as Foreign Secretary, from the conspiracy theorists of the far Right, and the revisionist historian David Irving, through to a Russian commentator said to be close to Putin -not that this is such a wide traverse these days, it seems.

Some people are suggesting Miliband's ethnic background as a Jew, or "Zionist" (the categories are abused as interchangeable) should make him unacceptable to Arabs. I'd say it is the policies of the British government, like invading Iraq, and backing Israel's war in Lebanon, which are unacceptable regardless of who represents them. Given a choice, Palestinians and their allies might have felt more confident talking to the Jew Gerald Kaufman (who was Labour's shadow Foreign Secretary when in opposition) rather than trying to talk to Jack Straw or Margaret Beckett. But some Western commentators can't help projecting their own ignorance and prejudices on to those they consider inferior peoples.

Miliband's politics are another matter. It is often said that father Ralph Miliband (author of Parliamentary Socialism and other works) spent his life arguing that the Labour Party had nothing to do with socialism, and his two sons Dave and Ed have loyally helped to prove the old man right. Another version of the jibe is quoted by Dave Osler in his blog:

The occasion for this discussion was provided by a Russian commentator reported in, of all places, the Daily Mail :
… Russian political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky, who is close to the Russian President, has claimed Mr Miliband inherited anti-Russian sentiments from his family.
The comments were last night being viewed as a sign of Moscow's bitterness towards Britain over the Litvinenko affair and the UK Government's refusal to extradite tycoon Boris Berezovsky to Moscow.
The attack came in Russian nationalist newspaper Tvoi Den. Mr Pavlovsky said: "David Miliband's hatred for Russia was inherited from his grandfather."
The newspaper said that in the Twenties the Foreign Secretary's grandfather, Samuel, then Shimon, Miliband, a native of the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, had fought under the command of Trotsky 'eliminating' white Russians opposed to Communism.
He later came to England with his son Ralph, who became a Marxist academic, and whose sons David and Ed now serve in the Cabinet.
"David absorbed anti-Sovietism, as the saying goes, with his mother's milk," said Mr Pavlovsky".

I'm hesitant to trust anything that appears in the Mail, a Tory paper that once backed Oswald Mosley's fascists, and in recent years has been notorious for attacking minorities and immigrants. This is the paper, that hosts columnists Melanie Philips (the neo-con admiring latter-day Zionist and preacher of her own narrow-minded and uncharitable morality, "Mad Mel" as she is known to many of my friends), and Richard Littlejohn, who took time recently from abusing Muslims, Gypsies and other minorities to produce a Channel Four TV programme blaming the Left for antisemitism.

But unless the Mail has invented its story and attributed things which Gleb Pavlovsky never said, then the Russian's rant is worth dissecting. Yes, it is apparently true that old Sam Miliband came from Warsaw (whether one can accurately describe that city's Jewish quarters as a "ghetto" before the Nazis set one up is another question), and that he joined forces under the overall command of Leon Trotsky in 1920. They were called the Red Army! Trotsky was Soviet Commissar for War at the time. So it seems peculiar to say the least for Pavlovsky to describe such a background as evidence of "anti-Sovietism".
Polish reactionaries attacked the Jews as pro-Soviet and "Bolshevists".

But then if Pavlovsky was writing in a Russian nationalist newspaper, it's not surprising that he should write this way. We have seen demonstrators bearing Stalin's portrait take to the streets of Moscow and St.Petersburg along with admirers of Hitler and the Czar, and what better way is there to cement such a bizarre and obnoxious alliance than with antisemitism and denunciation of Trotsky? Didn't "the Jews" (such as Yacov Sverdlov) kill the Czar and family? (for a view from the far Right see Didn't some Nazi observers interpret the Stalin purges as Russia liberating itself from the Jews?
(Though Hitler quietly expressed appreciation of the good turn done him in more practical ways by Stalin decimating the Red Army command).

The Pavlovsky interpretation of history sounds not dissimilar, incidentally, to some of the things we've read from the notorious Israel Shamir, one-time BBC Russian service contributor and writer for the Russian nationalist press, who tried to act as go-between offering a collection of Nazi documents from Russian associates to David Irving. Shamir, who doubles as a Swedish antisemite under a different name, has also rewritten Russian history when attacking some Jewish left-wing anti-Zionists.

Ralph Miliband, born in Brussels but brought to England as a refugee when young, was never "anti-Soviet". He did consider joining the Communist Party when young, but disagreed with the Soviet Union's treatment of Yugoslavia. His decision to join the Labour Party has been attributed to the influence of Harold Laski, who taught him at LSE, but may also have owed something to Konni Zilliacus and other left-wing Labour MPs. Zilliacus, who sympathised with Tito, managed to be denounced as an "imperialist agent" by the Stalinists(during the Prague trials) and denied the Labour whip because of his opposition to Labour's Cold War policies. Perhaps this is the kind of "anti-Sovietism" that Pavlovsky had in mind.

I never met Ralph Miliband (such was the sectarianism in my corner of the Left that we were not even encouraged to read his books, though I did get his Parliamentary Socialism from the library while I was a Young Socialist, and it is certainly not New Labourite!). But some time in 1982-3 I was helping to steward a big public meeting in County Hall against the Lebanon war, and someone told me after that Miliband had been there with Marcel Liebman, from Belgium. Liebman, the author of Leninism under Lenin, was a member of the Union des Progressistes Juifs de Belgique(UPJB) and a founder with Naim Khader of the Association Belgo-Palestiniennes. That about takes care of the "Zionism" slur.

I met Ralph Miliband's widow briefly during a gathering in Brussels a few years ago of the European Jews for Just Peace, hosted by UPJB, the Belgian affiliate. We discussed her late husband's books, and neither of us thought to mention Ed or David somehow.

Politics is not passed on genetically nor "imbibed with the mother's milk" as Pavlovsky suggests. (Sometimes even a good socialist upringing fails to do the trick, unfortunately). We choose what to inherit, according to inclination and circumstance, and if a Russian writer reported to be close to Putin prefers the inheritance of the Black Hundred reactionaries to that of Lenin's Bolsheviks, that is part of his country's decline, though it is not surprising if the Daily Mail should recognise and welcome it.

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