In 1987 a debate occurred in public sphere on a play written Jim Allen, someone who had previously been associated with Gerry Healy’s organisation the Socialist Labour League, a forerunner to the WRP. The play was called Perdition and was in the genre of faction, a fictional play with historical facts brought in. The historical facts in this case was that of the Zionist leaders in Hungary during the Holocaust and of Zionism in general during the 1930s and 1940s. The play was loosely based on the Kasztner trial that occurred in Israel in the 1950s.
Allen was quoted in Time Out, (January 21-28, 1987) declaring the play:
the most lethal attack on Zionism ever written, because it touches on the heart of the most abiding myth of modern history, the Holocaust. Because it says quite plainly that privileged Jewish leaders collaborated in the extermination of their own kind in order to bring about a Zionist state, Israel, a state which is itself racist.
The play was due to be shown at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs but was pulled by the theatre in January 1987 shortly before public previews were due to go ahead. The Artistic Director, Max Stafford Clark, had lost confidence in the play. But this was not before there had been a storm of controversy played out in the press and as a result of meetings that had occurred between the theatre and the play’s critics. Critics had accused the play of distorting the history of the Holocaust and of antisemitism.
One of the more interesting polemical exchanges on the play was in a few issues of the Trotskyist magazine Workers’ Liberty, the magazine of the organisation Socialist Organiser, the forerunner to today’s Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL). The reason for this post is that the AWL have recently published the debate on their website. Sean Matgamna, writing under his pen name, John O’Mahony, wrote the initial article attacking the play. In two subsequent issues there was an exchange between Matgmana and the anti-Zionist activist Tony Greenstein. The Engage web site has linked to this debate and a discussion is under way where both I and my good friend Paul Bogdanor have commented.
For those interested in either the anti-Zionism from the far-left in the UK or in portrayals of the Kasztner affair, then an understanding of this play and the controversy that ensued is useful. One of the more important debates on the play was a televised debate on March 18, 1987 for Channel 4′s Diverse Reports. A recording of this programme has been uploaded to the Internet and can be seen below: