anatomy-of-a-genocide-9781451684537_lgI have just finished a draft review – the final edited version will appear in Antisemitism Studies in due course.

Anatomy of a Genocide: The Life and Death of a Town Called Buczacz. By Omer Bartov. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2018. 399 pages. $30.00 (cloth).

Genocide is generally conceived of as violence by centralised perpetrators, usually states and regimes, towards whole population groups. In the last two decades, however, there has been more emphasis on the typical complexity of perpetrator forces, including the roles of ancillary states, paramilitaries and even civilians. Few, however, have looked unremittingly at genocide from the bottom up, focusing on a particular locality, and local studies have mostly not made large contributions to our general understanding. An obvious exception is Jan Gross’ Neighbors, whose intellectual and political effects are still being felt in Poland almost two decades after publication. Omer Bartov’s new book bears comparison with that striking pioneer: like Gross, Bartov examines a small town in Eastern Europe which changed hands between Soviet and Nazi forces in the Second World War and where elements of the local population played key roles in murdering the Jews. Yet there the similarities end: where Gross’s short volume on Jedwabne (in the north-east of today’s Poland) told a simple and compelling tale of Polish civilians’ do-it-yourself genocide, the key to Bartov’s longer book on Buczacz (now in western Ukraine and called Buchach) is the complexity of perpetration, victimhood and survival. Elements of Gross’s story, above all the mass murder of the local Jews and the participation of some local gentiles, are still central to Bartov’s, but the build-up to, process and aftermath of these events are different and indeed more typical: in Buczacz the Germans were the principal killers. Above all, Bartov gives us a extremely rich account, centering on relations between Jews, Poles and Ruthenians (today regarded as Ukrainians), conflicting Polish and Ukrainian nationalisms, and the policies of successive Soviet and Nazi invaders.

Bartov’s mother came from Buczacz, in what was then known as Galicia, a borderland region which has been part of several different states. He wrote more generally about the elimination of Jewish culture in the area since the world war in his moving Erased: Vanishing Traces of Jewish Galicia in Present-Day Ukraine (Princeton University Press, 2007), whose aim was ‘of course, not to say that Ukrainians have nothing to mourn but rather to point out that they feel obliged to exclude from that mourning the fate of Jews (and Poles) who were murdered in their midst.’ (67) The Polish inhabitants of Galicia were, as that statement suggested, somewhat parenthetical to that book but in Anatomy of a Genocide they as well as the Ukrainians are very much in the frame, in diverse ways. Bartov tells us that in the first half of the twentieth century Buczacz was a town of several thousand people, around half of them Jews, the remainder Poles and Ruthenians. Although Galicia was a province of the Austro-Hungarian empire from the late eighteenth century until the First World War, Poles had been the dominant Christian group since the days of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the sixteenth century, and still predominated in Buczacz and neighbouring towns as well as among larger landowners, although the peasants were mainly Ruthenians. Bartov shows how the interwar history was framed first by how the First World War struggle between the Russian and Austrian empires radicalized the local nationalisms: as Ukrainian nationalists took over the town in 1918, ‘People who had been colleagues and acquaintances for many years suddenly “recognized” their essential difference; they no longer shared the same community, moral values, culture or language.’ (67) Yet Bartov judges that at that point, ‘just as it was often inconceivable that Jews could ever become part of either national group in Galicia, it was also still difficult to draw clear distinctions between Poles and Ukrainians.’ (67-68) As Polish forces pushed out the Ukrainian nationalists and were displaced in their turn, before a final Polish conquest, successive waves of violence included Polish military pogroms against the Jews. As Galicia became part of independent Poland, the autonomous regime which the League of Nations envisaged for this multiethnic region never materialised, and the attempts of the Polish state and local Polish notables to Polonise the region stimulated a ‘new, radical, and increasingly violent nationalist organization’ (77) among Ukrainians. Some of the squeezed Jewish population responded with socialist and later communist attachments and many with their own Zionist nationalism, ‘asserting the need to uproot the newly proclaimed nation from the foreign soil it had inhabited for centuries in order to recolonize a mythical and yet already populated ancestral homeland.’ (84)

Bartov’s closely drawn twentieth century story is led, then, by growing polarisation caused by competing nationalist movements. In a characteristic break-out passage of considerable force, he emphasises the double-edged consequences: ‘The three decades that followed the destruction and erasure of pre-1914 Galician society belonged to the nationalists and ideologues, fanatics and zealots of a new breed, more willing to shed blood than to seek compromise, more determined to assert their hegemony than to preserve coesixtence: impatient men with guns and bombs, often led by the half-educated and thirsting for a fight. But things did not start that way; before nationalism began to hate, it was also about education and enlightenment, material improvement, collective responsibility, and group identity. (25) This passage concludes, ‘The path toward violence was neither foreseen nor inevitable’, but he later suggests that ‘religion and nationalism were being fused together to produce an ideological and psychological climate ripe for widespread violence once the constraints on social order were removed or altered.’ (120) This would happen with the new world war: ‘in the grand scheme of things, the interethnic squabbles in Galicia and the hopes of Ukrainian nationalists for German help in establishing an independent state counted for little. The Reich was about to invade Poland and hand over its eastern territories, including their ethnic minorities, to the Soviets; beyond that interim phase, Hitler had far greater plans to create a German “living space” in the East, and a Ukrainian state certainly had no place there.’ (126) Hitler and Stalin would take advantage of ‘fraternal violence on a scale and of a nature that even this region had never experienced before’ to facilitate ‘their policies of deportation and genocide. But for the people on the ground this ethnic struggle took on a life of its own, related to but also independent of the larger war, shaping their conduct toward their neighbors, and determining their memories of those years long after the fighting died down and the map had been irreversibly changed.’ (126-27)

The Soviet occupation of eastern Poland in 1939 was the first trigger for change, empowering some previously suppressed Ukrainians to attack Poles: ‘The intimacy of friendships that served as a barrier to stereotypes was now transformed into an intimacy of violence that strove to eradicate personal qaulms by inflicting gratuitous pain.’ (133) Poles whose testimonies Bartov outlines in detail also saw Jews as allied to the Soviets. The new regime brutally deported over 300,000 citizens from occupied Poland to Kazakhstan and Siberia in 1940-41: an estimated 60 per cent were Poles, 22 per cent Jews, 10 per cent Ukrainians and 8 per cent Belarusians. All three main groups ‘saw themselves as the main victims of the Sovet and German occupations, and each perceived the persecution of the other two groups as at least partly justified. … Each group’s conviction in the uniqueness of its own victimhood thus went hand in hand with a desire to punish those associated with its suffering; this was, in essence, the same kind of reasoning employed so successfully by the Nazis, who consistently presented themselves as victims of those they murdered.’ (153) This ‘competition for victimhood’, Bartov concludes, ‘continues to this day’ and makes its mark in distorted figures and accounts of violence.

German occupation in 1941 had predictable consequences for Buczacz’s Jews. In a Jedwabne-like moment, Ukrainian bands killed Jews and Poles as the Germans invaded, but ‘as the Germans monopolized the violence, they also systematized the killing.’ (168) As everywhere, the vast majority of local Jews, and many others brought to Buczacz from elsewhere in Galicia, were murdered, many of them in large visible operations. Bartov clearly portrays the conflicts among the agonized Jews around the roles of the Judenrat (Jewish council) and Jewish police: ‘The Germans accomplished the rapid destruction of the Jewish population by creating a local apparatus of Ukrainians and Jews who helped them organize and perpetrate mass murder and by swiftly decapitating the community so as to minimize organized resistance.’ (179) Ukrainian militia, turned into policemen by the Germans, played a key role in the massacres: many knew their victims personally. The German Security Police engaged every element of the German population in the extermination project: ‘Beyond the extraordinary bloodletting this undertaking entailed, perhaps its most scandalous aspect was the astonishing ease with which it was accomplished and the extent to which the killers, along with their spouses and children, lovrs and colleagues, friends and parents, appear to have enjoyed their brief murderous sojourn in the region.’ (185) In small, isolated German communities, ‘joint complicity in mass murder nourished a grotesquely merry intimacy.’ (197) In a precise, detailed, photographically illustrated but morally charged narrative, drawing on many perpetrator accounts, Bartov emphasizes the ‘normalization of murder’ in the German experience of genocide. In a reprise of the ‘ordinary men’ theme of Holocaust scholarship, he notes: ‘The most striking feature of the men who murdered the Jewish community of Buczacz was the seemingly unbridgeable discrepancy between their mundane prewar and postward lives and the astonishing brutality, callousness and disdain for humanity they displayed during the occupation.’ (230)

Bartov has long advocated historians’ listening to the victims, and in his chapter ‘The Daily Life of a Genocide’ he movingly explores, with the help of rare survivor accounts, how the Jews of Buczacz tried to hide from their tormentors and negotiate the mixture of rescue and betrayal in the responses of the gentile population. ‘The most striking feature’ of these accounts, he says, is ‘the ambivalence of goodness: even those who took in Jews could at any point instruct them to leave or summon the authorities: even those who initially hoped to enrich themselves from the Jews they sheltered could be moved at a certain point to risk their own and their family’s lives without any thought of profit.’ (247) ‘Evil was less ambivalent’, he continues, but for those locals, mainly Ukrainians, who benefited, ‘the blessings of genocide were short-lived’. (266) As German rule was increasingly threatened by the Red Army’s advance, the Polish underground escalated anti-Ukrainian operations, and the radical Ukrainian nationalists attempted to ‘ethnically cleanse’ the lands of a future independent Ukraine of Poles. 30-40,000 Poles and 5,000 Ukrainians were massacred in Eastern Galicia in 1943-45, and overall (including the earlier period) possibly 100,000 Poles and 15-20,000 Ukrainians died. After Ukrainian nationalists resisted the return of Soviet rule, over 200,000 family members of insurgents were deported to the interior of the USSR, with local Poles among those carrying out these deportations and the remaining villagers benefiting from the deportees’ property. The Polish-Ukrainian conflict only ended as a result of Stalin’s border and population policies, forced on Polish Communist leaders, which led to 560,000 Poles being removed from Eastern Galicia as it became part of Soviet Ukraine (the majority of the 750,000 Poles deported from the western regions of the newly expanded USSR) and 500,000 Ukrainians deported from the reconstituted Poland. ‘Ironically, then,’ Bartov notes, ‘the old dream of Ukrainian nationalists was about to be realized by their most hated enemy: an ehtnically pure Western Ukraine created by Soviet population policies.’ (274) He concludes this exemplary study: ‘All three ethnic groups living in Buczacz and its district underwent extreme suffering, although their agony peaked at different times and often at the hands of different perpetrators, just as their propensity to collaborate with the occupiers depended on different factors and changing circumstances. And yet, at the same time and long after, each group sought to present itself as the main victim, both of the occupying power and of its neighbors.’ (289)

Bartov’s book is the anatomy of an unparallelled period of extensive, multi-authored and diversely targeted destructive violence in Buczacz and its region. The combined actions of the local nationalists and the invaders destroyed the mixed Buczacz and Galician society which existed up to 1939 as well as the Jewish and Polish communities. The question which remains for this reviewer is, how is it the anatomy of ‘a genocide’? Bartov wears the concept lightly, and also refers to ‘genocide, ethnic cleansing and population policies’, implying that only part of the extraordinary violence which he describes – whether this is only the mass murder of the Jews or also includes some killings of Poles and Ukrainians is unclear – amounted to ‘genocide’. Yet genocide has been defined not simply as mass murder but as the targeted destruction of national groups, which must surely include the attempt to forcibly remove them from a given territory. In my interpretation what Bartov shows is that genocidal aims became increasingly common to almost all the political actors, Polish and Ukrainian nationalists as well as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, who organized violence to destroy ‘enemy’ populations. There are important differences between the ad hoc, intermittent, ancillary murder and terror of the locally-based militia (who mostly tried to destroy others only ‘in part’ as the Genocide Convention puts it) and the more systematic campaigns of the imperial invaders, and also between the Nazis’ extensive mass murders and the Soviets’ mass deportations. But they were all designed to eliminate unwanted elements and homogenise the population in one way or another; in this region in the 1940s, war was generally genocidal. In this sense, considering genocide as outcome as well as policy and action, there were both ‘a’ genocide in Buczacz and Galicia and specific genocides of Jews, Poles and (in some places and at some times) Ukrainians. Moreover, the destruction of the previous mixed society was completed by the victory of Stalin’s brutal programme to reorganise states and populations in an expanded Soviet empire over the more murderous programme of the Nazi Reich. It was this that prevented any return of the displaced peoples and consolidated the forgetting of the many victims which this fine book, thankfully, does much to overcome.


My review of Anton Weiss-Wendt’s book, The Soviet Union and the Gutting of the Genocide Convention, is now online here

Genocide and war (audio)

Posted: December 13, 2016 in genocide

All 57 minutes of my recent talk ‘The Problem of Genocide (In War and Terrorism)’ at the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence (CSTPV), University of St Andrews, can be listened to here.

I have coauthored the following article:

Goldberg, Amos; Kehoe, Thomas J.; Moses, A. Dirk; Segal, Raz; Shaw, Martin; and Wolf, Gerhard (2016) “Israel Charny’s Attack on the Journal of Genocide Research and its Authors: A Response,” Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal: Vol. 10: Iss. 2: 3-22. DOI: Available at: View article here

Abstract: Israel Charny has published an article, “Holocaust Minimization, Anti-Israel Themes, and Antisemitism: Bias at the Journal of Genocide Research” (JGR) in the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism. His specific allegations are bundled together in a single sentence: “minimization of the Holocaust, delegitimization of the State of Israel, and repeat[ing] common themes of contemporary antisemitism”. We write as the authors of articles and contributors to the JGR attacked by Charny. His allegations are false and we reject them. This article shows how they are based on distortions, misquotations, and falsifications of our work.

What do anti-Tory voters do where Conservatives have a more or less complete grip on all levels of government, despite only getting a minority of the votes? Where has Labour’s abandonment of its local voters – by failing to reform the electoral system, a failure that neither Corbyn nor Smith is really concerned about – left them? My account of the Devon situation is up on openDemocracy.

The Conservative hold on power in Britain is stronger than its majority of only 17 in the 650-seat House of Commons implies. Labour, the only alternative governing party, needs to gain around 100 seats even before the impact of the newly announced boundary changes is taken into account – or else forge an agreement with the Scottish National Party which looks no more possible than in 2015. As the Labour leadership contest draws to a close, the party’s road to power, whoever wins, is extremely difficult to forsee.

The Tory elective dictatorship rests on an almost complete dominance in southern England (outside large cities and university towns), which was also the principal area of support for Brexit. In the 2015 General Election, the Tores’ targeted wipeout of the Liberal Democrats across the South West delivered their unexpected majority. South and west of Bristol there is only one non-Tory MP (Labour’s Ben Bradshaw in Exeter). Even more than in the much-discussed case of Scotland under the SNP, the South West has become a virtual one-party state.

Some outside the region have speculated that a Liberal Democrat recovery might help enable a ‘progressive alliance’ as an alternative to Theresa May’s Tories. However a recovery to pre-2015 levels would not only be insufficient to offset Labour’s deficits in Scotland as elsewhere, but it ignores the extent to which the Tories have concentrated power to make it difficult for any opposition party to change the regional balance.

The situation in the region’s largest county, Devon, shows the depth of the problem. But at the same time, it is where local activists are devising new ways of doing politics that are challenging Tory control.

A microcosm of Tory power

The Tory monopoly in Devon is even more complete than in neighbouring Cornwall and Somerset. Conservatives have overwhelming control of local government (both unitary authorities, the County Council and almost all the districts). In the urban areas, the general election results were close and Labour (Plymouth, as well as Exeter where they recently consolidated their control of the City Council) and the Lib Dems (Torbay) remain in contention. But in the rural areas and small towns, the majority of the county, Tory dominance is almost absolute at every level – barring some town and parish councils where politics is less partisan.  

Some rural areas have never had a non-Tory MP. The Tories had six of the seven non-urban Devon seats even in 2010. At least one council, East Devon, has been Tory since it was created in 1973. In semi-rural Devon, even an unlikely Lib Dem revival would make little difference. How then can things ever change?

Minority rule

It is important to understand that Conservative rule is based neither on majority support or extensive party membership. In 2015, the party gained under 45 per cent of all votes. Even in the seven non-urban seats, the 2015 increase in Tory support brought them only up to a 49 per cent average; in the urban seats they squeaked in on the same 37 per cent that gave them their national majority. Yet the non-Conservative majority are virtually unrepresented.

The Tory party is hollowed out and probably has far fewer members than Labour. The party could only take Torbay and North Devon from the Lib Dems with the aid of the notorious ‘battle bus’ activists, whose costs their Torbay agent, Alison Hernandez – like many others – failed to declare. Even after Channel 4 broke the scandal in 2016, Hernandez was narrowly elected as Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner, but refused to stand aside as she was investigated (the case was transferred to another force and is still pending).

As ever where one-party rule is so entrenched, corruption is not far away. Revelations like those in 2013, when East Devon Tory councillor Graham Brown was forced to resign after telling a journalist he could obtain planning permission in return for cash, fuel widespread cynicism about local power which make the ruling party vulnerable.

The flexibility of local Tory MPs over Brexit – ‘pro-Remain’ Neil Parish MP, Chair of the parliamentary Environment committee, quickly backed Boris Johnson and Andrea Leadsom in quick succession for the leadership and now describes Brexit as a ‘glorious opportunity’ – is likely to create a new constituency for opposition.

Failure of the opposition parties

The situation in which non-Tory votes largely fail to count is also because Labour and even Lib Dem leaders have failed to reform the electoral system for Westminster and councils. Tony Blair’s government never held the referendum on Proportional Representation to which its 1997 manifesto committed it. Current Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has never campaigned for PR during his 33 years in Parliament, and together with his rival Owen Smith continues to fudge the issue in recent responses to the Electoral Reform Society.

Nick Clegg abandoned the Lib Dems’ longstanding committment to PR to obtain office in 2010, settling for the promise of a referendum on the weaker Alternative Vote without even securing government support for change. In the South West, the Lib Dems’ collective political suicide through the Coalition has broken the residual credibility of the first-past-the-post system.

Failing services

Because Tory dominance is so extensive, the party has largely taken voters for granted. Devon is suffering sharply from the general underfunding, Balkanisation and creeping part-privatisation of public services. The NHS trust running the flagship Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital has been forced from a healthy surplus into deep deficit. The NEW Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, also in chronic deficit, tried to bar some patients from routine operations until obliged by public pressure to abandon its plans. Local Community Hospitals have lost beds and have been handed over to NHS Property Services, which can put up rents or, worse, sell off the sites.

Devon is a region of heavy immigration, mainly of retirees from other English regions (although with some international migrants, concentrated in its cities). As in the NHS, the gap between funding and need threatens adult social care. Child protection services are deemed inadequate. Since Tory Devon retains grammar schools, there are concerns about the effects of Theresa May’s proposed expansion of these schools on the excluded majority of children.

Phoney devolution

Devon Tories’ unaccountability is also evident in how they have embraced the half-baked, patchwork ‘devolution’ launched by George Osborne, which offers limited ‘additional’ money – while core government funding for local services is pared down or eliminated. Although Devon is a much larger and more populous county than neighbouring Cornwall which has a sole devolution deal, Devon is being forced into a merger with Somerset in a new brand, an affront to local identities, ‘Heart of the South West’.

The principal rationale for the linkage seems to be to create a larger base for the anachronistic and hyper-expensive Hinckley C nuclear project. Any benefits, if they materialise, will be overwhelmingly for the neighbouring county. The proposed devolution, with a hyper-aspirational prospectus which bears comparison to Vote Leave’s notorious offer, is being run through the Local Economic Partnership, dominated by unelected business leaders.

County election challenge

Devon County Council comes up for reelection in May 2017. In 2013, the Tories won 38 of the 62 seats on a mere 35 per cent of the vote. Under first past the post, the divided Lib Dems, Labour, Greens and Independents between them won only 20 seats for 41 per cent of the vote. (UKIP, which polled 23 per cent, won 4 seats.)

It is obvious that none of the three centre and left opposition parties can win a majority in 2017. The Lib Dems may keep some strongholds, but they are still picking themselves up from their 2015 battering, and elsewhere local activists are thin on the ground.

Despite a deep conflict between Bradshaw and pro-Corbyn Momentum activists, Labour will probably keep its Exeter seats, but is unlikely to win in the rural areas and small towns. Rural Labour parties have seen the Corbyn surge in membership but with modest benefits for local activism – a constituency party which has trebled its membership to 500 may still only get about 15 people to its meetings. Members vote for their preferred leader, but have too little scope to change things locally. Even if it advances, Labour is starting from a very low base, and the Greens are smaller.

New politics?

The 2015 elections saw important steps forward for a different kind of politics in semi-rural East Devon. From a standing start, Independent candidate Claire Wright leapfrogged UKIP, Labour and the Lib Dems to take second place in the East Devon parliamentary constituency of Hugo Swire, a ‘Cameron croney’ since knighted in his resignation honours. It was the only Independent second place anywhere in England, after a grassroots campaign typically ignored by the national press.

In parallel, the East Devon Alliance, formed in 2013 out of revulsion at the Brown case and East Devon’s pro-developer bias, put up over 30 district council candidates and succeeded, despite the simultaneous Tory general election victory, in taking ten seats from the Tories (this writer was an unsuccessful candidate). Independents led by EDA replaced the Lib Dems as the official opposition.

An investigative blog, East Devon Watch, has played an important informational role in the new politics, now matched by a South Devon Watch site. An Independent group successfully challenged for control of Buckfastleigh Town Council, in the Teinbridge district, at the same time as the better-known ‘flatpack democracy’ of Frome in Somerset. A loose Independent network is emerging across the South West, including Cornwall.

Although social media played an important part in these campaigns, many relied heavily on old-fashioned doorstep campaigning. A new campaign to influence the County Council elections, Devon United, is perhaps the first – certainly the most ambitious – initiative to be actually launched through social media. Its first meeting in October will be addressed by Paul Hilder, co-founder of and CrowdPac and former global campaigns director for Avaaz and

I have written recently about the limitations of the national progressive crowdsourcing campaign organisation, 38 Degrees, during and after the Brexit vote. It remains to be seen what happens when crowdsourced politics meets local electioneering, and how the division of the anti-Tory vote will be overcome. But this initiative shows that the new politics is alive and kicking in a county where the old politics has so manifestly failed.

The progressive crowdsourcing campaign organisation 38 Degrees, which was neutral during the EU referendum, has been carrying out a consultation on to devise the terms of a ‘people-powered Brexit’ (or ‘DIY Brexit’). In a debate on openDemocracy with 38 Degrees’ David Babbs, I have criticised the group’s original neutrality, its quick switch to an embrace of Brexit, and its choice to exclude the most progressive option for Brexit (maintaining freedom of movement in Europe for British citizens and workers as well as for EU citizens in the UK) from the scope of its consultation.

David Babbs of 38 Degrees has replied admitting some failings, and I have come back both to acknowledge his engagement with my criticisms and to suggest that the flaws have deeper roots in the way 38 Degrees and crowdsourced politics in general works.

In my reply I welcomed the fact that 38 Degrees had sent out additional questions on its DIY Brexit plan, including about freedom of movement, partly in response to my criticisms. I now note that these are not included in the preliminary results of the consultation, suggesting that not enough members backed them – although the detailed voting results are not given.

UPDATE 4.11.16 – HOWEVER, 38 Degrees still do not include freedom of movement/membership of the Single Market in their DIY Brexit, and are now urging members to canvass their MPs for a flawed plan which excludes the most progressive options.

Meanwhile, I’ve come across this academic verdict which expands my analysis of how 38 Degrees’ core team leads: ‘The 38 Degrees central staff perform important filtering and gatekeeping roles, and their influence over the design of actions enables them to exercise significant power. … The central team uses its power to provide structure to the inchoate, individualised and often affective responses of the members to matters of public concern. Given the diversity of campaigns.’ (Andrew Chadwick and James Dennis, ‘Social Media, Professional Media and Mobilisation in Contemporary Britain: Explaining the Strengths and Weaknesses of the Citizens’ Movement 38 Degrees’Political Studies 2016, 1-19. DOI: 10.1177/0032321716631350)

Chadwick and Dennis quote Paolo Gerbaudo: ‘the essence of digitally mediated activism is “choreographical leadership”, which he says relies on “scene-setting” and “scripting” by “influential Facebook admins and activist tweeps”. They conclude: ’38 Degrees’ central staff might be seen as ‘choreographers’ who set the scene by organising and struc- turing action while trying to minimise their influence on the wills of individual members.’

Labour’s crisis has become existential. Jeremy Corbyn’s election last year galvanised an expanded membership to participate in the party’s affairs, but has had only a very modest wider impact. Although the sabotage of some on Labour’s right is partly to blame, Corbyn has not responded well to the huge challenges of leading the party. I see this failure as both political (his narrow leftist politics – conservative with a small ‘c’) and personal (that he is not really a leader has become obvious even to some of his friends).

Given the failure of the alternative candidates, I supported his election in 2015, but noted at the time that the only way he – or any other leader – could win would be to move out of Labour’s comfort zone. I have to say that Corbyn has dismally failed to do so, and his unwillingness to campaign in the media against Brexit confirmed my fear that he is incapable of facing up to the huge constitutional challenges which currently dominate UK politics. However many tens of thousands of new supporters he brings into the Labour Party, ‘workers’s rights’, however necessary in themselves, are no answer to these issues.

A month ago I published the article below on openDemocracy (which I failed to post on this blog at the time). I don’t have too much to add, except to note that that Theresa May, with her ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and authoritarian instincts, has committed herself to the anti-immigration interpretation of the Brexit vote. As I warned in June, ‘the temptation to capitalise electorally on the xenophobia of the Leave campaign – rather as Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP capitalised on the rather different nationalism of the Scottish referendum – will be strong.’ The Tories really have little else to rely on, as their economic credibility is in shreds, and they need to win big before the full mess of Brexit is revealed.

This situation represents an extraordinary danger for Labour (and for the progressive side of British politics), as divided and incoherent it could collapse under a nationalist Tory tide.  But it is also an opportunity to revive its position, if (a) the party can hang together and (b) it can formulate a coherent response to Brexit, xenophobia and the free movement of labour. I have come to the conclusion that it can do neither under Corbyn.

As I argued after the 2015 election, Labour faces an almost impossible challenge under any leader, and Labour’s renewal must be about more than leadership. However the current choice matters. I am waiting to be convinced that Owen Smith can do better: his best stab so far seems to be here.

Labour must fight for our European rights

Neither Corbyn nor his opponents have got the response to the crisis right. 4 July 2016

 It is becoming clear that Labour faces a potentially fatal dilemma over its response to the Brexit vote, and above all to the question of the free movement of people across borders. The deadly standoff between Jeremy Corbyn and the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party is supposed to be about this issue, but sadly neither side offers a clear way forward.

Out of this hour of abject Tory failure will either come a prime minister who supports Brexit (Michael Gove or Andrea Leadsom) or more likely one who failed to campaign against it and opposes the European Convention on Human Rights (Theresa May). There is a huge opportunity for Labour if it does what oppositions should do: oppose.

The 48 per cent who voted to stay in the EU – more if we count disillusioned Leavers – are looking for leadership. The last thing they want is a precipitate triggering of Article 50, as Jeremy Corbyn suggested. They want Parliament to do its job and secure the best European relationship possible.

The free movement dilemma

Labour has to get free movement right or face probably critical losses among either Remainers or Leavers – or both.

If it does not accept the implication of Leave’s success that free movement should be restricted, at least in respect of incoming labour, Labour risks alienating the minority (37 per cent according to the Ashworth poll) of its current supporters who backed Brexit – as well as driving ex-Labour voters in its heartlands even more firmly towards UKIP.

However by failing to support free movement, Labour risks alienating the majority (63 per cent) of its current voting base and also the centrist voters – repelled by Tory irresponsibility over the referendum – who could give it the boost it needs to return it to power. A suddenly reinvigorated Liberal Democrats stand ready to siphon off Labour’s support in this direction.

Corbyn’s weak support for Remain

Corbyn failed during the campaign, letting down the very people who voted him in. My charge sheet would be as follows:

  1. He failed to articulate a broad internationalist case for the European Union, restricting his support mainly to the narrow ground of ‘workers’ rights’.
  2. He presented the threat in terms of how the Tories would take advantage of Brexit to get rid of EU-guaranteed rights like maternity leave, not in terms of the very clear and present threat of Brexit itself to the free movement of people – one of the most precious rights of all for UK workers, students, pensioners and others, as well as for other EU citizens.
  3. He failed to react strongly to the outrageous racism of the official Leave campaign as well as UKIP. Surely despite his ambivalence over the EU, he could have led on this.
  4. He avoided a prominent place in the TV coverage of the referendum, failing to get major interviews (except for a late one on Sky) or a role in one of the big debates. He simply did not lead in the mass media, which is where the crucial exchanges were happening, but preferred to speak to Labour rallies.
  5. After the results, he was too quick to accept Brexit and urge the triggering of Article 50, instead of pressing for time for Parliament to define what the UK needs to aim for in negotiations with the EU.

Corbyn’s grassroot supporters – the Labour members and supporters who voted him in – were strongly for Remain and many are genuinely disoriented by his failure. John McDonnell is widely perceived to have performed better, but his recent comment that free movement is over is also ringing alarm bells.

A general Labour failure

This may seem to offer the way forward for the ‘coup’ now being organised against Corbyn, but he has not been the only one to let Labour down. There were some stirring Labour performances, for example by Sadiq Khan and Frances O’Grady against Boris Johnson and co. on ITV. But Labour often came over weakly – as in the unconfident and uninspiring contribution of new leadership aspirant Angela Eagle – thereby allowing others to make a stronger case.

The Labour IN campaign was drab and directed too much at trade union activists, not the wider public. Deputy leader Tom Watson was virtually invisible. Former deputy leader Harriet Harman trailed David Cameron almost as closely as the unctuous Gisela Stuart trailed Boris Johnson, failing to make a strong independent case.

In a revealing moment, Harman joked with Cameron about Tory responsibility for the NHS crisis, instead of pressing the point home in a way that would have underlined the falsity of Leave’s claim to give £350 million a weak to the NHS.

Overall, Labour – Corbyn and others – may have made enough noise to reinforce the inclination of most existing Labour voters to back Remain. Certainly the fact that SNP voters split for Remain by an almost identical 64:36, despite a much more coherent campaign, suggests that Labour’s weakness did not lose a lot of votes.

However we shall never know whether a strong, assertive, united Labour campaign might have swung more voters Remain’s way.

The PLP appeases UKIP voters

Worst of all, in the aftermath of the vote, Labour politicians have fallen over themselves to imply that we need restrictions on migration, which would mean abandoning the free movement of people. It is supremely ironic that many Blairite and Brownite MPs, who criticise Corbyn for failing to reach out to the middle ground, seem mainly concerned with protecting the UKIP flank.

Leading figures across the board appear to be rushing to appease anti-migrant ex-Labour voters, but offer little to the upset, frustrated and angry 48 per cent. As anyone who has talked to Remainers knows, there are many who have previously voted Tory and Lib Dem who are desperate for leadership.

This is probably the first opportunity since Blair’s disastrous Iraq venture fractured Labour’s support for Labour to reconstruct the alliance of left and centre which Blairites reminisce about. Many Remainers are so eager for someone to rally around that any Labour leader – even Corbyn – who stepped up would command attention. It is incredible that Labour should hand this opportunity to the Lib Dems.

Putting a positive case to Leave voters

Labour does need, of course, to address its Leave voters and ex-voters, especially in the North, Midlands and Wales. But as the assassinated MP Jo Cox knew, it will not do this in a race to the bottom which UKIP will always win. Labour has a real UKIP problem, but it will deal with it by fighting UKIP, not following it.

Labour needs to show that it has real answers to Leavers’ concerns. It needs to say that migration is not a numbers game, but about real people with families. It needs to put forward  strong proposals for extra NHS, school, housing and other resources for communities most affected by immigration (Corbyn rightly made the point that the Tories had cut the special funding for these communities, but the case needs to be made strongly and positively).

Labour needs also to point out to non-racist Leavers, and even soft racists, the shocking racist abuse and violence that the Tory and UKIP Leave campaigns have created.

Solving the Labour crisis

It is clear that in our first-past-the post electoral system, Labour needs to remain a coalition of left and centre-left if it is to ever win an election again. A split would let the Tories off the serious hook on which they have impaled themselves and could wreck Labour for decades – or even for good.

It would be grossly irresponsible of either Corbyn and his supporters or the PLP majority not to look for genuine compromise, possibly along the lines of the deal apparently discussed last week. Labour’s leader cannot lose most of his MPs, but nor can the MPs afford to alienate the hundreds of thousands of new members and supporters who will be the key to Labour’s revival as a party.

The EU referendum and its aftermath has shown that Corbyn is a weak leader, but it has also shown much of the PLP in a poor light. Labour needs to find a way of moving on without splitting, so that it can defend all that is best in our European Union membership as a Conservative government with a very shaky majority begins to deal with the mess that its leaders – Cameron, Osborne, Johnson, Gove and May – have created.