Tuesday, April 30, 2019

John Hobson, Jeremy Corbyn and Imperialism

When I heard that Jeremy Corbyn had written the foreword to an antisemitic book, I assumed it was a recent work.

But it turns out the book is Imperialism by John Hobson, which was published in 1902.

Hobson was an interesting and heterodox economic figure, who is claimed by both Liberals and Marxists. Imperialism was his most influential work.

He was one of the leading New Liberal thinkers before the first world war, but later joined the Labour Party without ever feeling wholly at home there.

Imperialism was his most influential work.and I am glad that it is in print. And Jeremy Corbyn is entitled to contribute a foreword if he wishes.

But there is a problem with Hobson,

As Danny Finkelstein writes behind The Times paywall.
In The War in South Africa, Hobson is clear. The war was being fought to support Jewish interests. Hobson blames “a small group of international financiers, chiefly German in origin and Jewish in race . . . The rich and powerful liquor trade . . . is entirely in the hands of Jews . . . the stock exchange is needless to say, mostly Jewish . . . the press of Johannesburg is chiefly their property . . . we are fighting in order to place a small international oligarchy of mine owners and speculators in power at Pretoria.” 
His biographer John Allett concludes that for Hobson: “The conspirators, then, were the Rand Jews.” This idea carries over into Imperialism. In his foreword Mr Corbyn says of the book that “what is brilliant, and very controversial at the time, is his [Hobson’s] analysis of the pressures that were hard at work in pushing for a vast national effort, in grabbing new outposts of Empire on distant islands and shores”. 
Yet central to Hobson’s analysis of the “pressures that were hard at work” were the finance houses controlled by Jews. “These great businesses — banking, booking, bill discounting, loan floating, company promoting — form the central ganglion of international capitalism,” writes Hobson in Imperialism, not too many pages on from Mr Corbyn’s foreword.
It would be possible to restate Hobson's theories about the origin of imperialism without mentioning anybody's race, but there is certainly a strand in British political radicalism whose opposition to high finance is too aware that those financiers are Jewish.

So Corbyn should have drawn attention to the antisemitism of Hobson's work and condemned it.

In his, defence, however, neither the Wikipedia page on Hobson, nor the article about him from the Liberal Democrat History Group nor the entry on him in the Dictionary of Liberal Thought make any mention of his antisemitism either.

Clearly, it is a prejudice that is easy to ignore if you are not the object of it.

For an article arguing for Hobson's importance but acknowledging his racism, see 'Why should we still study J. A. Hobson’s Imperialism?' by Richard Toye.


BeautifulSingers said...

Interested parties routinely scrub articles of derogatory information. One cannot draw any inference at all from an omission in a Wikipedia article. It could be all of one person who is omitting it.

Corbyn's endorsement of this book is the worst thing he's done, because it is not simply him tolerating the antisemitism of others. He is endorsing the antisemitism of others.

Labour deserves better.

Ed said...

It seems, judging by the evidence Finkelstein presents here, that while Hobson did refer to leading financiers as being Jewish in 'The War in South Africa', he simply referred to them as 'these great businesses - banking' etc. in 'Imperialism', without any ethnic qualifier. I haven't read the full text of 'Imperialism', just extracts in university courses (years ago!); but I can only presume, if Hobson spoke in 'Imperialism' about 'financiers ... chiefly Jewish in race' or the stock exchange being 'mostly Jewish', or other phrases of that kind, Finkelstein would be quoting it verbatim. It would certainly strengthen his case, so he'd hardly leave it out of the article.

So what we appear to have here is the following:

1) Corbyn says positive things about 'Imperialism', where Hobson links imperial expansion to major financial interests.

2) In another work entirely, which Corbyn said nothing about and may not have read (it's certainly much less well known), Hobson identified the major financiers as being Jewish.

3) Finkelstein has rather artfully lumped 1 and 2 together. The third paragraph gives the reader a very strong impression that Hobson spoke about 'finance houses controlled by Jews' as the driving force behind imperialism 'not too many pages on from Mr Corbyn's foreword', but Finkelstein doesn't actually say that.

So unless Finkelstein thinks that *any* pejorative reference to banks, finance capital, financial interests etc. is antisemitic - which can hardly be sustained without conflating Jews with finance in a way that topples straight back into antisemitism - it looks like he's strained the evidence well past what it will bear (that's a generous way of putting it).

Jim said...

I have looked up the book on Amazon and its description makes no mention of antisemitism. Hobson's Imperialism was a very influential book and the fact that his analysis is marred by comments about Jewish financiers does not mean that it is not a useful book. Lenin was later able to use much of Hobson's analysis without making the mistake of singling out Jewish financiers and without being antisemitic.

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone doubts that info can be scrubbed from Wiki (though I would expect this kind of thing to be replaced). However the other sources are not easily manipulated, and in any case the argument was, I think, that the information was not readily available.

save the World said...

this appalling man has to be kept as far away from power as possible.Corbyn is either lying to us the public or lying to himself. he is an antisemite despite his weak denials. The only thing he has not said as yet is that some of his best friends are JEWS.