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Some language in book deplorable, says foreword writer Corbyn

Labour denies he was endorsing suggestions in a 1902 economics tome that Jews control the banks and press.

Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised over the foreword to a book (PA)
Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised over the foreword to a book (PA)

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has branded some of the language in a book for which he wrote the foreword as “absolutely deplorable”.

Mr Corbyn was speaking after he came under fire for penning a new foreword to a century-old book which argued that banks and newspapers were controlled by Jews.

In a new edition of economist JA Hobson’s Imperialism: A Study, published while Mr Corbyn was a backbencher in 2011, the MP described the work – written in 1902 – as “brilliant, and very controversial at the time” and “a great tome”.

Mr Corbyn has now told JOE.co.uk: “The language in that book to describe minorities is absolutely deplorable and I totally deplore it.

“What my foreword was doing was analysing the process which led to the First World War, of the wars between empires in Europe – that’s what the book was about.

“Indeed many, many people have referenced that in speeches they’ve made – not just me – many, many others.”

He also urged everyone across Europe to stand up against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and far-right racism.

Labour has denied that his original comments amounted to an endorsement of sections of the book which are widely regarded as anti-Semitic.

In the book, Hobson suggested that finance in Europe was controlled “by men of a singular and peculiar race who have behind them many centuries of financial experience” and “are in a unique position to control the policy of nations”.

He argued that the great financial houses have “control which they exercise over the body of public opinion through the press”.

And he suggested that no European state would engage in a great war “if the house of Rothschild and its connections set their face against it”.

Hobson’s theory that imperialism was driven by international finance seeking new markets was quoted approvingly by Lenin.

And Mr Corbyn wrote in his foreword: “Hobson’s railing against the commercial interests that fuel the role of the popular press with tales of imperial might, that then lead on to racist caricatures of African and Asian peoples, was both correct and prescient.”

Former Labour MP Ian Austin, who quit the party earlier this year in protest at Mr Corbyn’s handling of anti-Semitism allegations, said: “Jeremy Corbyn endorsed (a) book that peddles racist stereotypes of Jewish financiers and imperialism as ‘brilliant’ and a ‘great tome’ … He is completely unfit to lead the Labour Party.”

The president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Marie van der Zyl, called on the Labour leader to explain how he came to write his foreword, saying the book contained an “obvious anti-Semitic message”.

In an open letter to Mr Corbyn, she said of the book: “This is pure and unequivocal racism and there can be no apology for it.”

And Conservative peer Lord Finkelstein, who uncovered the foreword in The Times, asked: “Did Mr Corbyn not read the book before he praised it? Did he read it but, as with the Mear One mural, not notice that it was anti-Semitic? Did he realise it but decide it didn’t matter because there were other more important things about it?

“One thing is clear – the problem of left-wing anti-Semitism isn’t really about Israel, it’s much more deeply embedded than that.”

But historian Tristram Hunt, who quit Labour in 2017 to take up the post of director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, said it was “reductive” to see Hobson purely as an anti-Semitic figure, arguing that he was “an important figure, worthy of study, within the 20th century liberal tradition”.

A Labour Party spokesman said: “Jeremy praised the Liberal Hobson’s century-old classic study of imperialism in Africa and Asia.

“Similarly to other books of its era, Hobson’s work contains outdated and offensive references and observations, and Jeremy completely rejects the anti-Semitic elements of his analysis.”

Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey told Sky News that she had not read Hobson’s book, but added: “The guy in question was a political thinker of his time, whether you agree with his opinions or not.

“Numerous Labour and Conservative colleagues have commented on him, whether that’s negatively or positively, taking certain parts of his thinking into consideration.

“But in no way would the Labour Party or Jeremy Corbyn condone any anti-Semitic comments in any way.”

A senior Labour source rejected suggestions that Mr Corbyn had shown a pattern of selective blindness towards anti-Semitism.

Hobson’s book also contained “repugnant and racist” language about African and Asian subjects of imperial power, said the source, adding: “It’s not that he couldn’t see that, it’s that he wasn’t talking about that. He regarded it as a book of its time with the language of that era.”

It was “reasonable” for Mr Corbyn to write a foreword about Hobson’s broader economic ideas without focusing on the offensive language used, said the source.

“He was talking about a much broader set of issues and didn’t engage with the detail of the language, whether it applied to anti-Semitism or other forms of racism,” he said.

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