Bad news for Labour right fanning Hobson outrage: their heroes thought he was great too

A certain pair of former Labour leaders – and others – referred to left-wing writer in glowing terms
Gordon Brown and Tony Blair loved JA Hobson

The Labour right and the mainstream media are featuring heavily the ‘outrage’ of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn writing a foreword to a reprint of well-known left-wing thinker JA Hobson’s 117-year-old book, “Imperialism: a study”.

Hobson’s language about financiers would have drawn relatively little attention in 1902 but would now be considered antisemitic. It’s not a rare phenomenon for those responsible for great works to have an unpalatable side – and there are some recent and relevant examples of ‘centrists’ doing that, including with reference to JA Hobson.

Winston Churchill infamously accused Jewish people of a ‘worldwide conspiracy‘ – and also claimed white Europeans were a ‘higher grade race‘, as well as saying he strongly approved of the gassing of ‘uncivilised’ tribes. However, it has not stopped now-independent MP Ian Austin – vocal among critics of the Hobson foreword and who blamed antisemitism for his departure from Labour – calling Churchill the ‘greatest ever Briton‘ and giving him ‘pride of place‘ on his mantel.

Ian Austin’s tweet about his hero Churchill

But hypocrisy also hits close to home for other so-called ‘centrists’ – because both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are on record praising Hobson.


Former PM Tony Blair – the hero of many ‘moderates’ – spoke fulsomely about Hobson in his seminal 1995 lecture to the Fabian Society, praising him as the ‘most famous’ proto-‘New Labour’ figure:


Blair’s successor as PM, Gordon Brown, went even further. In his 2005 Chatham House speech the then-Chancellor name-checked Hobson and quoted his words as a key plank in his argument:

In Britain, this idea of liberty as empowerment is not a new idea, J A Hobson asked, “is a man free who has not equal opportunity with his fellows of such access to all material and moral means of personal development and work as shall contribute to his own welfare and that of his society?”

The references by Blair and Brown appear to have escaped the notice of the media now – and to have escaped condemnation at the time.

But Brown has other relevant examples. When right-wing writer David Aaronovitch tried to dismiss Brown as a comparison on the basis that he didn’t write a foreword to a book, it turned out that Brown did:

Writer Sol Hughes commented:

Smith infamously wrote at length of the deficiencies of “savage peoples”.


Other centrists have got in on the act, too. Jon Cruddas MP – once supported in a deputy leadership election by eminent right-winger Roy Hattersley and current vocal centrist Tony Robinson and considered a leading ‘moderate’ thinker – made no fewer than five references to Hobson in his 2009 pamphlet on social democracy.


It seems that many people are usually capable of separating the unsavoury aspects of historical figures from their works and achievements.

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  1. Again, they’re seeping desperation…they know this won’t wash, it’s more about deflecting from Labour’s brilliant and broadly popular policies.

  2. Here’s some clear Tory #antisemitism MSM have been studiously ignoring for 7 long weeks. Occurred inside a council chamber.


    Try & grasp this concept: While the MSM attack Labour with bogus claims, other parties perceive a “safe space” in which to frolic.

  3. You would think the MSM esp BBC would be capable of seeing this for what it is and leave it well alone. Of cause the do and that’s why we need a Jeremy Corbyn government.

  4. I wonder what Hobson’s choice of words were? It would seem exact quotations cannot be reproduced in these ‘enlightened’ times. It didn’t take the Times or the BBC long to accuse Jeremy of Anti-Semitism yet again for writing a forward to a ‘classic’ that is over a century old.

    1. James O’ Brien on LBC focused the opening of his prgramme today on this, showing himself to be every bit as right-wing in his critique of Corbyn as most of his colleagues.

      Moreover, LBC are still running this on their news bulletins together with the matter of the leaked dossier listing names of Labour Members who were to be investigated that was handed to Cressida Dick by Nick Ferrari some weeks ago. Given Watson’s connection to LBC I would not be surprised if he was involved.

    2. ““United by the strongest bonds of organisation, always in closest and quickest touch with one as other, situated in the very heart of the business capital of every state, controlled, so far as Europe is concerned, by men of a single and peculiar race, who have behind them many centuries of financial experience, they are in a unique position to control the policy of nations.”

      Hobson follows this up with: “Does anyone seriously suppose that a great war could be undertaken by any European state, or a great state loan subscribed, if the house of Rothschild and its connections set their face against it?”

    3. This is of course just muck-raking of a desperate sort from the Tory supporting , uncritical Right Wing Israeli government-supporting, Jewish establishment and their Right Labour and Tory and Guardianista press allies. But let’s not hide from the Leftish Liberal J A Hobson’s vicious lifelong anti-Semitism, which surfaced constantly in his writings as a distraction from criticising capitalism as a class-based , not a racially or ethnicly-based, system. He was of course a man of his dreadful racist and anti-Semitic times – as this excerpt from Wikipedia details :

      “Hobson’s early works contain strongly antisemitic language.[1][7][8] In the 1890s he blamed Jewish immigrants from the Russian Partition for harming the well-being of native workers and advocated limitations on immigration. Writing on the South African war in War in South Africa (1900), he tied the war to “Jew Power” and saw Johannesburg as a “New Jerusalem”. Hobson claimed “Jewish financiers”, whom he saw as “parasites”, manipulated the British government that danced to their “diabolical tune”.[9][10] According to history professor Norman Etherington the section of financiers in Imperialism seems irrelevant to Hobson’s economic discourse, and was probably included since Hobson truly believed it.”

      So as well as an innovative political economist, his politics were poisoned by anti-Semitism – completely in line with later fascist and Nazi ideology. That is why it WOULD have been a good idea , in 2011 , for Jeremy to spare a few lines just to explain this major flaw in Hobson’s world outlook . A simple sentence to the effect that, ” Hobson’s politics and economics generally, including this seminal work on Imperialism, while ahead of their time in most ways, were still polluted and sidetracked by an obsessive anti-Semitism which will in places shock and repel the modern reader”. That Jeremy didn’t add such a simple line in his foreword is undoubtedly unfortunate.

      We on the Left have to be prepared to errors of judgement by Jeremy on occasion . Jeremy is no anti-Semite but equally he aint the messiah and makes mistakes and omissions which his political enemies capitalise on. Such is politics and real life. This latest barrel-scraping attack will have no impact on anyone outside of the people who hate Jeremy for his politics anyway.

  5. What’s that noise? Oh its only the bottom of the barrel being scraped.
    If we are going to condemn Jeremy Corbyn for praising a 100 year old book about Colonialism which included an apparent anti semetic reference then should we ban Oliver Twist from our schools and libraries and condemn producers, directors and actors who participate in the stage and screen versions ( usually shown on TV by the State Broadcaster at peak holiday times) as anti Semeties because Dickens’s disgusting Fagin character was Jewish?
    What about the publishers and retail outlets which sell the printed version of Oliver Twist? Have they committed an offence by distributing Anti Semetic material and should they be charged?
    The same applies to The Merchant of Venice containing the Jewish character Shylock – is the Royal Shakespear Company, its actors directors and patrons to be deemed ” institutionally anti semetic” for staging a 500 year old play which contains a repulsive character named Shylock who is Jewish.
    And what about the bard himself ? Should we be dismantling his statues, discouraging tourists from visiting Stratford upon Avon etc on the grounds that he is an Anti semite?
    And then there’s Agatha Christie whose works are currently being reprinted. She made at least one anti Semetic reference in her 1934 book The Moving Finger.( she made others in other books as well which I can’t recall off hand) Should we demand that this book is not reprinted and existing copies withdrawn from sale and destroyed. Agatha Christie is the most widely read novelist of all time. Do the anti semetic references in this ( and other) of her books mean that she and her millions of readers are disgusting anti Semites?
    Well I don’t think there is any chance that old books and plays will be censored ,theatres and cinemas shut down or tourists turned away from Stratford upon Avon. Instead the MSM, elements of the party and some Tories will just just grab this opportunity to malign Jeremy Corbyn , a man who has received the whole hearted support of Othodox and Socialist Jews and Jewish intellectuals along with 13,000,000 voters at the last election. Attacking Jeremy is the usual fallback position when Labour is ahead in the polls so nothing new here then.

    1. You missed a more obvious Agatha Christie book. “And Then There Were None” was previously known as “Ten Little Indians”. But even that was not the original title, which was “Ten Little [N-word]s”.

      1. Yes this is a prime example of racism in Agatha Christie’s works. Also I remembered another of her books which contains anti semetic references – Cat Among the Pigeons.

    2. I had similar thoughts.

      If someone sees ‘Oliver’ or ‘The Merchant of Venice’ are they required to denounce the anti-Semitism there?

      The whole thing is pure opportunism.

      1. Absolutely right but there is more to it than that – what is going to be done about the producers, directors and actors involved in the production of these works containing anti semetic references and what about the accolades to the long dead authors?

      2. I listened to a musical setting of Rudyard Kipling song last week. Does that make me (or The Unthanks folk group) supporters of imperialism?
        It’s a shame that the Labour Party can’t give those who go on the media in the wake of such smears decent briefings. If Skwawky and others here can put together a response why can’t they?

      3. Also, a couple of further thoughts.
        First, the barrel is clearly being scraped but there will doubtless be another smear story on 21st May.
        So, shouldn’t there be someone in JC’s team doing research to look at what else they might use against him in preparation and getting the arguments ready in advance?
        “So, mr/ ms journalist, do you accept that your argument means that the BBC is supporting racism every time it shows an Agatha Christie adaption? …you say that’s different? Please explain how.”

  6. The irony is that antisemitism – a common attitude at the time – was a key driver behind the Balfour Declaration, which was seen as a way of buying off the perfidious ‘race’ in the struggle with the Axis powers and the Ottomans.

    Of course the vile Hodge knows that the attack on Corbyn is sheer confection. She really would have little difficulty getting under the lowest limbo bar. In my mind, there is little more despicable than frivilously using the memory of holocaust victims for narrow political ends. and

    1. RH.Absolutely. weaponising AS in this way may not be racism in itself but in my view it’s the moral equivalent of quite nasty racism.

  7. J. A. Hobson was a towering figure of the British intellectual left in the early twentieth century. He was a Manchester Liberal who moved early to the Independent Labour Party, the friend of Keir Hardie and the young, left Ramsay Macdonald. In 1902 he wrote ‘Imperialism’, which first described and defined the process, and used the word we still use today. He was a hero of, among others, Michael Foot and A.J.P. Taylor. When Lenin described imperialism and incorporated it into classical Marxist thought, he paid Hobson fulsome tribute. When Hobson died, even the Times, which must have hated everything he stood for, called him a “distinguished historian”.

    In ‘Imperialism’ Hobson used language which we would now regard as anti-semitic, but was the common intellectual currency of the period, when there was widespread concern at sharp financial practice, which culminated in the Marconi affair. It is, to put it mildly, wretchedly ironic that the official leaders of the Jewish community in Britain attack Jeremy Corbyn for praising a man who did so much to analyse a process from which so many Jewish people have suffered.

    It’s particularly ironic to see what’s happened today with the reporting of this attack in the Guardian. First there was a modest piece by Sarah Marsh. That clearly wasn’t good enough for the ‘political editor’, Heather Stewart. So she bumped it up with comments from lots of anti-Corbyn figures who are clearly on her speed dial: Wes Streeting, Catherine McKinnell, Ian Austin. It’s a pity she didn’t ask any old Guardian stagers about Hobson. Because they might have told her, that Hobson wrote ‘Imperialism’ partly because of his experience of the British in the Boer War. Where he went as the special correspondent of, yes, the Manchester Guardian.

  8. In 1880 in Russia peasant discontent with the rich elite was threatening to boil over so the then Tsar made it official state policy to put all the blame for their ills on the Jewish population which tragically led to pogroms and a significant number of Jewish people fleeing.
    A classic case of divide and rule and we have much to learn from history.
    The real danger today comes from the Far Right and it will be Labour and the Trade Unions on the front-line opposing them.
    What we have is firstly right wing Jewish forces trying to impose one dominant narrative – total and uncritical support for Israel-so this is an attack on Jewish Diversity (Silverstein, 2018).
    Secondly not surprisingly the Neo-Liberal capitalist media are joining in as they see a Corbyn Govt as a threat to their privileges.
    And thirdly you have the Right Wing opportunist Labour MPs jumping on the bandwagon because they can’t win on ideas.
    The real enemy are the Right Wing Barbarians.

      1. Or did he try to set his tarantula on her?

        What a prick!

    This will amuse some and infuriate others, but it is undeniably a good listen.

    In episode 2, from Adam Smith last week, we leap forward a hundred years to Karl Marx. A towering figure in world, let alone economic, history, and endlessly fascinating as much as for his personal foibles as for his vast influence on the course of twentieth century history. Few figures are more divisive. Yet is he fully or even remotely understood by one tenth of those who have strong views on him? Are his central ideas now discredited by history, or are we still waiting for his philosophy to stop merely describing the world, as for many it still does, and instead, as he famously declared, to start changing it? Is Marxism genuinely gaining ground even as his economic predictions gather dust? And what exactly is Dialectical Materialism? All this plus jokes in 28 minutes

  10. … but the attempt to link Gordon Brown to Hodge’s disgusting behaviour by imputation because he wrote an introduction to ‘The Wealth of Nations’ is Hodge-type smearing.

    Get a grip – an alternative to Hodge isn’t through slavish, copy-cat imitation.That’s just the same old shite in a different wrapper.

    1. That isn’t done to smear Brown, though. It is done to show how ridiculous this attempted smear is. So it is absolutely fair game.

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