Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 9, 2014

Thoughts triggered by Max Blumenthal tweets about Ukrainian fascists

Filed under: anti-Semitism,Fascism,imperialism/globalization,Russia,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 8:14 pm

So I think I am getting the hang of this twitter thing. Basically it allows a wide range of “personalities”, whether from Hollywood or those who write for the Nation, to keep their followers (literally, that’s what they are called) to keep track of their comings and goings, or their musings—the sort of thing that used to be found on lavatory walls. Like this:

Screen shot 2014-03-09 at 2.01.30 PM
Just as importantly, it allows the latter group of personalities to make observations about current events without taking the trouble to explain themselves, after all 140 characters does not give you much room for thoughtful analysis. The strategy is to post a link to a picture, a Youtube clip, or an article (probably in descending order) that speaks for itself. When I have asked one of these people for further explanation, they ignore me. Who can blame them, I guess.

Of all the personalities I follow, none epitomizes this form of communications more than Max Blumenthal who has unleashed a steady stream of links to Youtube clips, etc. that would lead any sensible person to conclude that Ukraine is roughly equivalent to Germany after Hitler’s election in 1932. This is typical:

Screen shot 2014-03-09 at 2.09.59 PM

If Max had a blog like Richard Seymour, another personality into twittering, then it might be possible to engage with him. I suppose if I had a big megaphone like Blumenthal, I wouldn’t put up with disagreeable riffraff myself. But then again, thinking about what a prick I can be, I probably would.

Although I admire Max and consider him one of the leading lights of the liberal left, I have to wonder how much grounding he has in Marxism. Probably none, I’m afraid. Nazism and all the other forms of fascism were defense mechanisms against a rising proletarian resistance to economic ruin. Once fascists come to power, they break the back of the socialist left and the trade unions by imprisoning or killing its leaders and members alike. You know how Martin Niemüller put it: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Socialist; Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.”

While there are theoretical debates among Marxists about whether fascism was a meaningful threat after WWII (for reasons too complex to go into here), you can say that the Greek junta of 1967 and the Pinochet dictatorship had many of the same characteristics of classical fascism, first and foremost the need to destroy a militant left and trade union movement.

So I wonder what exactly this has to do with the Ukraine. I can’t imagine that the fascists have any enemies in the Western half of the nation since people like Blumenthal probably regard them as having the same mindset as most Israelis. I can just see him going down the streets of Ukraine with his video camera getting somebody chosen at random to blurt out how much they love Stephen Bandera, the patron saint of the Ukrainian right.

One wonders how much success he would have in finding such people given the findings of a scholarly poll on attitudes toward the armed forces during WWII. It turns out that 75 percent of Ukrainians would have backed the Soviet Army while Bandera’s Ukrainian Insurgent Army was a choice of only 8% of the respondents. You can read all about it here.

I’ve heard from one well-known leftist that fascism was not so much a threat against the Ukrainian working-class but against Russia. I tried to picture what that meant, that fascist gangs would pour across the border and launch storm-trooper type attacks on a working class that is not particularly well-known for general strikes and the like? From what I can gather, it is not so much that but fears—particularly those raised at places like Global Research—that a united front of the EU, NATO, the Obama White House, John McCain, Nicholas Kristof and Ukrainian fascists is plotting to provoke a war that will open Russia up for imperialist penetration after the fashion of the wars in Yugoslavia. They see Putin as a Milosevic type figure mounting a nationalistic defense of his nation’s assets. I have heard this argument repeatedly from the Global Research left whenever something like Chechnya or Georgia crops up. Even when Western imperialism shows little interest in going to war (or even gives its benediction to the suppression of the Chechen revolt), nothing changes. WWIII is always on the horizon.

Do any of these people have any idea of the character of the Russian economy? Here it is from Russia Today, the horse’s mouth:

Russia in world’s top 3 recipients of foreign investment for first time – UN

Published time: January 29, 2014 14:55

Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Russia reached a record $94 billion in 2013, a leap of 83 percent on the year before according to a United Nations report. Russia follows the US and China as the third most attractive country for investors.

The Global FDI research published by the UNCTAD – the UN agency responsible for international trade and development – has Russia jumping 6 places from its 9th spot in 2012.

The shift was primarily caused by the UK’s BP taking an 18.5 percent stake in Rosneft as part of Rosneft’s $57 billion acquisition of TNK-BP.

“FDI in the Russian Federation is expected to keep pace with its 2013 performance as the Russian Government’s Direct Investment Fund [RDIF] – a $10 billion fund to promote FDI in the country – has been very actively deployed in collaboration with foreign partners, for example funding a deal with Abu Dhabi’s state-owned Mubadala Development Company to invest up to $5 billion in Russian infrastructure,” the report says.

The RDIF sealed 6 long-term investment contracts worth above $8 billion last year, which also included deals with the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, France’s Caisse Des Depots International, Italy’s Fondo Strategico Italiano and the Korea Investment Corporation, the fund said in the e-mailed press-release.

As Blumenthal’s daily diet of “the fascists are coming” tweets arrived, a ring of familiarity set in. Hadn’t I heard of such a spurious amalgam before? And, bingo, I finally figured out the origin this morning,

That’s Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, and Der Fuhrer. For decades now, enemies of the Palestinian people have tried to smear all forms of resistance to the Zionist state as sympathetic to Nazism and/or anti-Semitism.

Zionists love to bring up what Hitler said whenever they debated people like Max Blumenthal:

Germany stood for uncompromising war against the Jews. That naturally included active opposition to the Jewish national home in Palestine….Germany would furnish positive and practical aid to the Arabs involved in the same struggle….Germany’s objective [is]…solely the destruction of the Jewish element residing in the Arab sphere….In that hour the Mufti would be the most authoritative spokesman for the Arab world. The Mufti thanked Hitler profusely.

They pull the same crap with Hezbollah. A photo of one of their rallies has made the rounds on many Zionist websites:

Screen shot 2014-03-09 at 3.23.47 PMThe NY Sun, an arch-reactionary an arch-Zionist newspaper, is fond of slinging mud at Hezbollah:

Hezbollah’s Nazi Tactics

By STEVEN STALINSKY | July 26, 2006

“Just like Hitler fought the Jews, we are a great Islamic nation of jihad, and we too should fight the Jews and burn them.”

— Hisham Shamas, political science student, at a symposium hosted by Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV at Lebanon’s largest and only government-run university, Université Libanaise, November 29, 2005

Hezbollah celebrates Holocaust denial, as well. “Jews invented the legend of the Holocaust,” the leader of Hezbollah, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, said on April 9, 2000. During an appearance on Al-Manar on February 3, Sheik Nasrallah called Europe’s leading Holocaust denier, Roger Garaudy, “a great French philosopher.” On February 23, Sheik Nasrallah appeared on Al-Manar and praised another leading European Holocaust denier, David Irving, for having “denied the existence of gas chambers.

(I defended Hezbollah against the charge of anti-Semitism here http://louisproyect.org/2007/02/06/is-nasrallah-an-anti-semite/.)A

Hamas gets the mud slung at them as well. Here’s a photo of a recent rally:

The picture of Sisi and Hitler carry the words: “Hitler killed the Jews for his people, al-Sisi kills his people for the Jews.”

I think that Hezbollah and Hamas make all sorts of mistakes but linking them to fascism is a filthy slander that only Zionism is capable of, especially offensive considering how Gaza has become Israel’s Warsaw Ghetto.

Although I doubt that this will make much difference to Blumenthal or any other liberal who has made up his mind that the Ukrainians are scary, beady-eyed monsters ready to lynch the first Jew they get their hands on, this is what Ukraine’s official Jewry had to say about the fascist threat:

An open letter to Vladimir Putin from prominent Ukrainian Jews has accused the Russian president of using false claims of ultra-nationalism and anti-Semitism to legitimise intervention in Ukraine.

“Historically, Ukrainian Jews are mostly Russian-speaking,” begins the letter, dated Friday March 7, which calls on Putin to withdraw his forces from Crimea.

“Our opinion on what is happening carries no less weight than the opinion of those who advise and inform you.”

The signatories, among them scholars, scientists, businessmen, artists and musicians, firmly reject the line put forward by Putin in a press conference on Tuesday that the protest movement that removed president Viktor Yanukovich was made up of “anti-Semitic forces on the rampage”.

“Your certainty about the growth of anti-Semitism in Ukraine, which you expressed at your press conference, does not correspond to the actual facts,” the letter continues. “Perhaps you got Ukraine confused with Russia, where Jewish organisations have noticed growth in anti-Semitic tendencies last year.”

And while the signatories accept the existence of “some nationalistic groups” in the anti-Yanukovich protest movement, they insist that “even the most marginal do not dare show anti-Semitism or other xenophobic behaviour”.

“And we certainly know that our very few nationalists are well-controlled by civil society and the new Ukrainian government – which is more than can be said for the Russian neo-Nazis, who are encouraged by your security services.”

Finally, and even more incontrovertibly, there’s the statement made by highly reputable researchers on the Ukrainian and East European far right:

We are a group of researchers who comprise specialists in the field of Ukrainian nationalism studies, and most of the world’s few experts on the post-Soviet Ukrainian radical right. Some of us publish regularly in peer-reviewed journals and with academic presses. Others do their research within governmental and non-governmental organizations specializing on the monitoring of xenophobia in Ukraine.

As a result of our professional specialization and research experience, we are aware of the problems, dangers and potential of the involvement of certain right-wing extremist groupings in the Ukrainian protests. Following years of intensive study of this topic, we understand better than many other commentators the risks that its far right participation entails for the EuroMaidan. Some of our critical comments on nationalist tendencies have triggered angry responses from ethnocentrists in Ukraine and the Ukrainian diaspora living in the West.

While we are critical of far right activities on the EuroMaidan, we are, nevertheless, disturbed by a dangerous tendency in too many international media reports dealing with the recent events in Ukraine. An increasing number of lay assessments of the Ukrainian protest movement, to one degree or another, misrepresents the role, salience and impact of Ukraine’s far right within the protest movement. Numerous reports allege that the pro-European movement is being infiltrated, driven or taken over by radically ethnocentrist groups of the lunatic fringe. Some presentations create the misleading impression that ultra-nationalist actors and ideas are at the core or helm of the Ukrainian protests. Graphic pictures, juicy quotes, sweeping comparisons and dark historical references are in high demand. They are combined with a disproportionate consideration of one particularly visible, yet politically minor segment within the confusing mosaic that is formed by the hundreds of thousands of protesters with their different motivations, backgrounds and aims.

Here are some of the researchers who signed this statement, starting from the top:

  • Iryna Bekeshkina, researcher of political behavior in Ukraine, Sociology Institute of the National Academy of Sciences, Ukraine
  • Tetiana Bezruk, researcher of the far right in Ukraine, Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Ukraine
  • Oleksandra Bienert, researcher of racism and homophobia in Ukraine, PRAVO. Berlin Group for Human Rights in Ukraine, Germany
  • Maksym Butkevych, researcher of xenophobia in post-Soviet Ukraine, “No Borders” Project of the Social Action Center at Kyiv, Ukraine
  • Vitaly Chernetsky, researcher of modern Ukrainian and Russian culture in the context of globalization, University of Kansas, USA

Now maybe all of them are secretly in cahoots with the ultraright. I guess we’ll have to wait for the next intercept of a phone call between one of them and a Svoboda goose-stepping thug to prove that. Let’s see when the Russian security forces come up with. My only advice is to read it very carefully since they have a way of slinging the bullshit around.

February 12, 2014

Jew-baiting continues at Moon of Alabama

Filed under: anti-Semitism — louisproyect @ 4:13 pm

A while back I called attention to Rowan Berkeley, the Jew-baiting commenter at this “anti-imperialist” website. After 3 or 4 comments there, I was banned.

I check in on it from time to time just to keep track of the talking points of the pro-Assad tendency–I hate to call it left because the website has so little interest in class politics.

This morning I caught these comments on an article attacking a Danny Postel editorial in the NY Times calling on outside powers to use force to deliver food to besieged cities and neighborhoods in Syria:

snigger….this last sentence according to NYTs Danny Postel(jewish?) should read: ‘They are besieged by democratically oriented rebel groups’

Posted by: brian | Feb 11, 2014 8:34:53 PM | 15

I am pretty sure that this Brian is a character who used to troll my blog until I banned him. You have to ask yourself what Postel’s ethnicity has to do with anything.

Then there is this:

Evidently, lenin and stalin, both intimately linked to zionism and alsmost certainly jews themselves and bringing many other jews (usually zio-related) into power and/or position, have done immense harm to Russia.

Decades later, when communism ended, the traitor whore gorbachev and later the drunkard jelzin completely sold out Russia and her wealth. And once again jews, typically with tight links to israel, are, to put it diplomatically, unproportionally well represented among those who baughts fortunes in resources and state enterprises for pennies.

Posted by: Mr. Pragma | Feb 11, 2014 7:43:26 PM | 11

You really have to stop and think why this high-profile “peace” and “anti-imperialist” website attracts such individuals. I suppose it is like rotten meat attracting maggots.

I also have to wonder why Mondoweiss editor-at-large Annie Robbins keeps posting links to this rancid outlet so often. I suspect that for her “anti-imperialism” is important enough to overlook the website’s obvious attraction to Jew-baiters, if not outright fascists.

UPDATE:

Comment from Sheldon Ranz on Marxmail:

Louis, Annie Robbins has been noticed for her own Jew-baiting.

In an exchange on Mondoweiss last year, she implied that one participant, goldmarx, was “an arrogant Jew.”

She has prevented others from responding to blatant anti-Semitic posts from one Woody Tanaka, who last March accused European Jews in general of engaging in rape, murder and land theft.

But Phil Weiss knows all this and ultimately, he must be held accountable.

January 25, 2014

Thoughts on Diana Johnstone and Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala

Filed under: anti-Semitism,comedy,France — louisproyect @ 7:54 pm

Over the years I’ve noticed an unfortunate tendency for the left to conduct polemics like an attorney. If someone like Nicholas Kristof is a district attorney building a case against Robert Mugabe, for example, he includes only his misdeeds. Then the leftist will trawl through print and electronic media to prove to the jury—the fence sitting public—that Mugabe is the best thing that ever happened to the people of Zimbabwe. The prosecution will fixate on homophobia and electoral fraud, while the defense will urge the jury to consider the sweeping land reform. Leaving aside Shakespeare’s suggestion as to what should happen to lawyers, it would probably be best for the left—particularly those who see themselves operating under the rubric of Marxism—to adopt a more dialectical approach, one that considers the contradictions and aspires to a higher level understanding.

Those were the thoughts that occurred to me after reading 80-year-old veteran left journalist Diana Johnstone’s defense of the besieged French comedian Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala that can be read here, here, and here in chronological order. The lawyer analogy certainly applies here more than in other cases since Dieudonné has been charged numerous times under France’s draconian Holocaust laws. Johnstone writes in her most recent piece in the Counterpunch Jan. 25-26 Weekend edition:

Dieudonné has been fined 8,000 euros for his song “Shoananas”, and further such condemnations are in the offing.  Such lawsuits, brought primarily by LICRA (Ligue internationale contre le racisme et l’antisémitisme), also aim to wipe him out financially.

One line in the chorus against Dieudonné is that he is “no longer a comedian” but has turned his shows into “anti-Semitic political meetings” which spread “hatred”.  Even the distant New Yorker magazine has accused the humorist of making a career out of peddling “hatred”.  This raises images of terrible things happening that are totally remote from a Dieudonné show or its consequences.

Much of Johnstone’s coverage of the case makes excellent points about the Holocaust industry in France in which the state and NGO’s use Hitler’s exterminationist policies as a cudgel to enforce Zionist ideological hegemony.

Since it would be unwise for an attorney to be too obvious, Johnstone does acknowledge one petty crime in the defendant’s rap sheet:

The worst thing Dieudonné has ever said during his performances, so far as I am aware, was a personal insult against the radio announcer Patrick Cohen.  Cohen has insistently urged that persons he calls “sick brains” such as Dieudonné or Tariq Ramadan be banned from television appearances.  In late December, French television (which otherwise has kept Dieudonné off the airwaves) recorded Dieudonné  saying that “when I hear Patrick Cohen talking, I think to myself, you know, the gas chambers…Too bad…”

She considered the gas chambers remark “offensive” but not “typical of Dieudonné’s shows.”

I certainly understand how jokes can be made about extermination. In “Defamation”, a documentary on Norman Finkelstein and Abe Foxman made by an Israeli filmmaker, we see Norman in the stairwell of his building raising his arm in a Nazi salute as unexpectedly as Dr. Strangelove. That’s his way of showing that he refuses to bow down to the Israel lobby. There’s also Larry David who provokes a Zionist neighbor into a screaming fit after he hires a string quartet to play Wagner on his front lawn on the occasion of his wife’s birthday. I know for a fact that my rich uncle Mike wanted to spite my mostly Jewish and Zionist village in the Borscht Belt by buying my cousin Louis a Mercedes-Benz roadster on his 16th birthday back when German goods were verboten. Who are they to tell me what car to buy, he insisted.

There’s only one problem in trying to apply this type of joking across the board. It is one thing for a Jew to make jokes about six million killed; it is another for someone like Dieudonné. As an analogy, when Black rappers use the word “nigger” in a song, it has a different character than when a Klansman would.

Now, I would leave open the possibility that Dieudonné is only “playing” a character with provocative statements about genocide after the fashion of Sasha Baron Cohen’s Borat but there are some worrying signs that there is more to it than that. Johnstone says that the wisecrack about gas chambers is not typical but how would she characterize the guest appearance of genocide “revisionist” Robert Faurisson during a Dieudonné performance. One can certainly understand Chomsky defending the free speech rights of Faurisson but you judge whether this is what prompted Dieudonné to invite him on stage:

I also wonder what his goal was in the film L’Antisémite that unfortunately was another victim of France’s repressive legal codes. I find Tablet magazine to be an obnoxious purveyor of Zionist propaganda but something tells me that this account rings true:

The opening 2-minute skit of the film consists of a Chaplanesque [sic] newsreel narration set during the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945. The quivering, grabby hand of a pinstriped inmate extends out from behind barbed wire as the emaciated survivor jostles with a fleshy cigar-smoking capo for attention from the camera. Dieudonné arrives dressed as an American sergeant and throws scraps of food at the beggar, commanding him with a hearty laugh and flash cards to “Mange! Bouffe!” (“Eat! Grub!”) The prisoner then reveals the existence of the gas chambers to Dieudonné. As a kitten laps up liquid from a Zyklon B canister, Dieudonné sniffs at the canister suspiciously and then dabs some on his neck like cologne. Together they sift through the ashes of a barbecue pit. “Chicken?” the skeptical Dieudonné asks. “No, those are children’s bones,” the prisoner tells him. Dieudonné proceeds to sit on a leather chair only to be yelled at by the prisoner “for sitting on my grandmother!” He picks up a chandelier and asks if it too was made of Jewish skin. “Bien sûr,” replies the prisoner before Dieudonné plops it over his head and electrifies him as if in a cartoon. The film also features guest appearances by the aged Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson and ghastly National Front ideological guru Alain Soral.

I don’t know. I think I have a pretty good sense of humor but this sounds like the work of what Bebel called the “socialism of fools”.

Well, maybe Dieudonné cast Soral because he is photogenic or because he wanted to make some subtle satirical point. The historical record is a bit disconcerting. In 2009 the two men ran for the European Parliament elections on the Anti-Zionist Party ticket. Their program was unabashedly pro-Muslim and benefited from Soral’s populist message:

The fight against the rise of commercial globalist totalitarianism which is what the European Union is in reality; the defense of French workers and their rights against the plan for the destruction of our industries, public services, and small businesses by globalized capitalism, hence by the European Union; the return of the State to all large economic sectors, or a well-reasoned protectionism.

It should of course be understood that Johnstone has a soft spot in her heart for the National Front Party in France, whose leader Marine Le Pen she considered a “moderate” among the candidates running in the 2012 elections:

This applies notably to Marine Le Pen, whose social program was designed to win working class and youth votes.  Her “far right” label is due primarily to her criticism of Muslim practices in France and demands to reduce immigration quotas, but her position on these issues would be considered moderate in the Netherlands or in much of the United States.

While Marine Le Pen and Alain Soral were both associated with the National Front, he apparently broke with them on how to regard Muslim immigrants. With respect to the National Front’s demand to “reduce immigration quotas”, Marine Le Pen has a flair for demonstrating her party’s program on keeping the undesirables out. In 2011 she visited Lampedusa, an Italian island that is an entry point for North African boat people. She stated during her visit that Europe’s navies “in reality … should go as close as possible to the coasts from where the clandestine boats departed to send them back.” Lampedusa, of course, was in the news last year for being in proximity to a boat from North Africa that capsized and left 300 dead.

One would think that a man with a Cameroonian father would want to hold National Front politicians—past and present—at arm’s length, given their nativist politics or that they would want to keep their distance from him given his pro-Muslim statements. However, the relationship between Dieudonné and Le Pen the father and Le Pen the daughter is complex, to say the least.

The Financial Times reported that Marine Le Pen agrees with the penalties being handed down against the one-time comedian:

Marine Le Pen, who heads France’s far-right National Front party, prides herself on being a lawyer, and a media lawyer at that. So she has no doubt that chilling anti-Semitic statements made recently by the provocative comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala are actionable under a French law that bans hate speech.

“What he said against Patrick Cohen is against the law, and Mr. Dieudonné knows that perfectly well,” she said last week during a two-hour interview with the Anglo-American Press Association of Paris. “So he must assume the consequences, and he should be sanctioned.”

Yet the father is still on his side apparently:

However, she didn’t deny that he is a friend of her father, who, by the way, is godfather to one of Dieudonné’s children. “One can have a friendship for someone without sharing their ideas, or being condemned in their place,” she added.

If only it were so simple. In fact, her father’s views are not so far from those of Dieudonné, particularly about the Holocaust, a regular theme of the comedian’s routine. Mr. Le Pen once famously dismissed the Holocaust as “a mere detail of history.” In 2012, an appeals court upheld a three-month suspended sentence and a €10,000 fine against Mr. Le Pen for his statement that the Nazi occupation of France was not “particularly inhumane.”

I really wonder what went through Dieudonné’s mind when he decided that Jean-Marie Le Pen was just the right person to be his kid’s godfather. After the French banlieue riots, he had this to say: “Many live by dealing in drugs, or stealing. They have created their own ghettos. We have places where there are no schools, because they have set them afire and the police and firemen are attacked when they go there. Civilization is slowly evaporating from this country.”

I could be wrong but Dieudonné strikes me as the French version of Clarence Thomas or Roy Innis, the former civil rights leader who found it to his advantage to hook up with the Republican Party right. It is a bit harder to place Dieudonné politically on the French spectrum since he tends to be coy about what he stands for, but if you think that he is on the left, then you really have no idea what the left is about.

I want to conclude with what is the most important point of all. It should be obvious that charges against Dieudonné as helping to creating the conditions for anti-Semitic pogroms is utter nonsense. Jews enjoy a privileged position in the entire industrialized world and their elites are deeply embedded with the majority Christian ruling class. The people who have the most to worry are the Muslims in places like France, Spain or Italy who get beaten up or killed by skinhead mobs who are facilitated by the “mainstream” political parties such as Marine Le Pen’s National Front that like the KKK in the United States learned long ago to wear business suits rather than white robes.

The problem is Dieudonné’s amalgam between Zionist and Jew that is exactly the equation put forward by the Abe Foxman’s and Eli Wiesel’s of the world. With so many young Jews on the front lines supporting BDS, the tides are turning against Zionism. The goal of the left should be to deepen the divide between young Jews who understand how rotten Zionism is, not to spread the lie that being a Jew and being a Zionist is the same thing.

Dieudonné’s greatest offense is not that he is anti-Semitic; it is that he is anti-political.

January 23, 2012

Eurovision, Turkey, and the Jews

Filed under: anti-Semitism,music,Turkey — louisproyect @ 6:55 pm

(Hat tip to David Shasha of the Sephardic Heritage mailing list.)

Eurovision, Turkey, and the Jews

By: Rachel Amado Bortnick

I first heard of Can Bonomo less than a year ago, in an interview with him in the Istanbul Jewish weekly Şalom on the occasion of the release of his first CD, Meczup (Lunatic). But what drew my attention then was not that a Jewish boy was a popular musician (there have been, and are, many Jews that are popular musicians in Turkey) but that he was from Izmir, the city where I was born and raised. I thought, in fact, that he was probably the great grandson of the Mr. Bonomo who owned a bicycle repair shop in our neighborhood, as there was only one Bonomo family in Izmir. When later on, in June of 2011, I read that Can (pronounced as John) got a prize in the musical competition Altin Kelebek (golden butterfly) organized by the Turkish daily Hurriyet, I was happy, as I would be for a young relative who had done well.

But when I learned, on January 10, 2012 that Can Bonomo was nominated by the Turkish Television Network TRT to represent Turkey at the next Eurovision song competition – to be held in May in Baku, Azerbaijan – I was truly proud.The buzz about Bonomo’s nomination continues daily with the posting of a widely-seen You Tube video of his performances, and on Turkish websites, articles, TV and radio features and commentaries and interviews. In most cases, the commentators or interviewers are kind and happy for him, ignore or downplay his Jewishness, and just ask him about the songs he will submit, about his musical training, and so on, and wish him good luck.But unfortunately there has also been a barrage of Anti-Semitic articles and comments, some going as far as accusing the musician of being part of the Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world! Can has been very dignified, and to all those that bring up his Jewish background as an issue, he has replied that “Music has no language, religion, or race”, and explaining that his family has been here for 540 years, he is a Turk, and can represent Turkey.

The Eurovision song contest, though not well known in America, is a big deal every year among the participating nations (its website states that approximately 125 million people watch it on TV) and winning it is a cause of national pride, akin to winning a “Miss Europe” contest. Jewish Americans probably heard about it in the years that Israel won (it did 3 times: 1978, 1979, and 1998) and are reminded of it especially when the popular song “Halleluyah” is introduced as “the Eurovision winner of 1979.” But this year Eurovision is in the Jewish media because a Jewish boy is going to represent a Muslim country!But it is not pride in a Jewish person’s achievement that is motivating the coverage, but rather criticism of Can’s statements regarding his Judaism, and countering the possible notion that Turkey is a tolerant country. At least this seems to be the case in the recent JTA article titled, “Turkish Jews celebrate country’s Eurovision pick, but singer would prefer quiet about his religion”

http://www.jta.org/news/article/2012/01/17/3091233/turkish-jews-celebrate-countrys-eurovision-pick-but-singer-would-prefer

The article objects to Bonomo’s statement, citing it as: “My family came from Spain 540 years ago. I am Turkish and I am representing Turkey, I will go out there with the Turkish flag … I am an artist, a musician. That’s all that everybody needs to know.”

The writer, Ron Kampeas (who is probably Sephardic also, judging by his last name) writes:

“Should Bonomo, who was born in the coastal city of Izmir, decide one day to shuck off his hesitancy about his Jewish roots, he might discover how they informed his music.

Jewish cafe singers drew crowds in the 1920s and 1930s with their modernized versions of their parents’ aching and ancient Ladino love ballads. A number of their modern Israeli interpreters, including Hadass Pal-Yarden and Yasmin Levy, have taken their acts to Turkey and won acclaim.”

The fact is that Bonomo’s statement, which even referred to his people’s history in Turkey, had no “hesitancy” about his Jewish roots. Nor has he ever tried to hide his Jewishness. Even though his first name, Can, is Turkish (it means “soul”), his surname is clearly is Sephardic, and, as probably everyone knows by now, means “good man” in Italian. (Some have mused that he may be a relative of the famous American clarinetist Benny Goodman!)

Mr. Kampeas has never interviewed Bonomo to find out what the musician knows about what “informed his music.” And who were the “Jewish cafe singers [who] drew crowds in the 1920s and 1930s …?”

There is no tradition of Jewish café singers in Turkey! Perhaps Mr. Kampeas was thinking of Roza Eskenazi, star of Rebetiko music, who is the subject of the movie “My Sweet Canary.”

[You can read her story in: http://www.mysweetcanary.com/PDF/bio.pdf ]

Roza is not typical of Sephardic women, who traditionally did not perform in public. The many Jews who were Turkish classical musicians and composers in Ottoman times were not “café singers” either.  Nor did Mr. Kampeas have to refer to Israelis who sing in Ladino today. There are wonderful Ladino musical groups and singers in Turkey, including Los Pasharos Sefaradis, Janet and Jak Esim, and the world’s only Ladino children’s chorus, Las Estreyikas d’Estambol. Additionally, the group Sefarad, made up of Jewish musicians, performs in Ladino and Turkish, has recorded several CDs, and remains extremely popular. But none of this adds or detracts from Bonomo’s personality as a Jew or a musician.

I agree with the interviewee Saporta in the article, who said that the antisemitic verbal attacks on Bonomo come from “political factions that deride minorities in general,” but unfortunately their pronouncements concerning Jews are as Anti-Semitic as one finds anywhere. Yet, Can Bonomo‘s popularity has prompted thousands in Turkey to express outrage at the racism and discrimination in the country, and to promote the traditional kindness and humanity of the Turkish people. As Jews, we have had a long history of living peacefully with and among Turks. We hope that Can Bonomo will win first place with his song in the 2012 Eurovision contest, and bring glory to Turks and Jews, with ripple effects for good will everywhere.

September 29, 2011

The Gilad Atzmon controversy

Filed under: anti-Semitism,Jewish question — louisproyect @ 7:12 pm

Gilad Atzmon

Gilad Atzmon is a jazz musician who has generated controversy over his articles on Zionism similar to those generated by Israel Shamir who I wrote about in July. While both men are of Jewish origin, they have been accused of anti-Semitism and holocaust denial. Many of the same charges have been made against Norman Finkelstein but in the case of Shamir and Atzmon there is much more substance.

Atzmon has prompted some heated reactions once again coinciding with the release of his new book “The Wandering Who?: A study of Jewish identity politics”, both in mainstream and radical circles.

I first got wind of the controversy from a blog post by Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic Monthly titled “John Mearsheimer Endorses a Hitler Apologist and Holocaust Revisionist“. Along with Martin Peretz and Alan Dershowitz, Goldberg is one of America’s top apologists for the state of Israel. He was also a supporter of the war in Iraq, using his outpost at the New Yorker magazine to circulate pro-war propaganda very similar to Judith Miller’s. Goldberg writes:

Atzmon is quite obviously a twisted and toxic hater. His antisemitism is so blatant that activists of the so-called BDS movement (boycott, divestment and sanctions), which seeks the elimination of Israel, refuse to have anything to do with him. But Atzmon still has at least one friend among anti-Israel activists: The R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, and co-author of “The Israel Lobby,” John J. Mearsheimer.

Mearsheimer had blurbed Atzmon’s book, much to Goldberg’s anger:

Gilad Atzmon has written a fascinating and provocative book on Jewish identity in the modern world. He shows how assimilation and liberalism are making it incredibly difficult for Jews in the Diaspora to maintain a powerful sense of their ‘Jewishness.’ Panicked Jewish leaders, he argues, have turned to Zionism (blind loyalty to Israel) and scaremongering (the threat of another Holocaust) to keep the tribe united and distinct from the surrounding goyim. As Atzmon’s own case demonstrates, this strategy is not working and is causing many Jews great anguish. The Wandering Who? Should be widely read by Jews and non-Jews alike.’

Mearsheimer responded to Goldberg on Stephen Walt’s blog. As anybody who has been following the culture wars over the state of Israel will know, Mearsheimer and Walt, two highly accomplished academics, were accused of anti-Semitism for putting forward the proposition that there was an Israeli lobby and—what’s more—stating that it undermined American interests. Although I disagreed with their analysis, I did defend them against the anti-Semitism canard.  Mearsheimer wrote in self-defense against Goldberg, who has been hounding ever since the initial Mearsheimer-Walt salvo against Israel appeared:

The book, as my blurb makes clear, is an extended meditation on Jewish identity in the Diaspora and how it relates to the Holocaust, Israel, and Zionism. There is no question that the book is provocative, both in terms of its central argument and the overly hot language that Atzmon sometimes uses. But it is also filled with interesting insights that make the reader think long and hard about an important subject. Of course, I do not agree with everything that he says in the book — what blurber does? — but I found it thought provoking and likely to be of considerable interest to Jews and non-Jews, which is what I said in my brief comment.

Turning from the mainstream to the radical movement, an open letter appeared on Lenin’s Tomb from authors who had been published by Zero Books, the imprint associated with Atzmon’s new book. They complained:

Atzmon’s assertions are underpinned by a further claim, which is that antisemitism doesn’t exist, and hasn’t existed since 1948. There is only “political reaction” to “Jewish power”, sometimes legitimate, sometimes not. For example, the smashing up of Jewish graves may be “in no way legitimate”, but nor are they “’irrational’ hate crimes”. They are solely “political responses”.[5] Given this, it would be impossible for anything that Atzmon writes, or for anyone he associates with, to be anti-Semitic. This shows, not only in his writing, but in his political alliances. He sees nothing problematic, for example, in his championing of the white supremacist ‘Israel Shamir’ (“the sharpest critical voice of ‘Jewish power’ and Zionist ideology”[6]), whose writings reproduce the most vicious anti-Semitic myths including the ‘blood libel’, and for whom even the BNP are insufficiently racist.[7]

The thrust of Atzmon’s work is to normalise and legitimise anti-Semitism. We do not believe that Zero’s decision to publish this book is malicious. Atzmon’s ability to solicit endorsements from respectable figures such as Richard Falk and John Mearsheimer shows that he is adept at muddying the waters both on his own views and on the question of anti-Semitism. But at a time when dangerous forces are attempting to racialise political antagonisms, we think the decision is grossly mistaken. We call on Zero to distance itself from Atzmon’s views which, we know, are not representative of the publisher or its critical engagement with contemporary culture.

Along the same lines, Andy Newman, who runs the Socialist Unity blog used the Guardian’s Comments are Free to attack Atzmon:

Gilad Atzmon is a world renowned jazz musician, and a former soldier in the Israeli army, so his advocacy of the Palestinian cause is guaranteed to draw attention. Indeed, a small leftwing publisher, Zero Books, has commissioned Atzmon to write a book on the Jews as part of an otherwise entirely credible series by respected left figures such as Richard Seymour, Nina Power and Laurie Penny.

The trouble is that Atzmon has often argued that the Zionist oppression of the Palestinians is attributable not to the bellicose politics of the Israeli state, but to Jewish lobbies and Jewish power. Atzmon’s antisemitic writings include, for example, a 2009 article – Tribal Marxism for Dummies – in which he explains that while “Marxism is a universal paradigm, its Jewish version is very different. It is there to mould Marxist dialectic into a Jewish subservient precept”. Atzmon argues that it is merely a “Judeo-centric pseudo intellectual setting which aims at political power” and that “Jewish Marxism is there to … stop scrutiny of Jewish power and Jewish lobbying”.

Newman’s piece provoked a rebuttal from Jonathan Cook on Counterpunch titled “The Dangerous Cult of the Guardian”  that defended Atzmon as well as Edward Herman and David Peterson. Like Atzmon, these two have come under attack there as “holocaust deniers” on Bosnia and Rwanda from George Monbiot. Cook also took up David Leigh’s attack on Julian Assange, a recycling of the usual canards. Cook had this to say about Newman’s piece on Atzmon:

A typical example of the Guardian’s new strategy was on show this week in an article in the print edition’s comment pages – also available online and a far more prestigious platform than CiF – in which the paper commissioned a socialist writer, Andy Newman, to argue that the Israeli Jewish musician Gilad Atzmon was part of an anti-semitic trend discernible on the left.

Jonathan Freedland, the paper’s star columnist and resident obsessive on anti-semitism, tweeted to his followers that the article was “important” because it was “urging the left to confront antisemitism in its ranks”.

I have no idea whether Atzmon has expressed anti-semitic views – and I am none the wiser after reading Newman’s piece.

Cook says that he has no idea whether Atzmon has expressed anti-Semitic views. This might be a function of a failure to click the link in Newman’s article that would have brought him to the singularly stupid article titled “Tribal Marxism for Dummies. In it you can find howlingly uninformed opinions such as:

Jewish Marxism is very different from Marxism or socialism in general. While Marxism is a universal paradigm, its Jewish version is very different. It is there to mould Marxist dialectic into a Jewish subservient precept. Jewish Marxism is basically a crude utilisation of ‘Marxist-like’ terminology for the sole purpose of the Jewish tribal cause. It is a Judeo-centric pseudo intellectual setting which aims at political power.

Palestinian thinkers were probably the first to realise that the situation in Gaza, Nablus and the refugee camps had little in common with 19th century Europe. This was enough to defy Marxism as a sole analytical political tool. However, the Jewish Marxists had a far more adventurous plan for Palestinians, Arab people and the region in general. They wanted Arabs to become cosmopolitan atheists. They suggested that Arabs should drop ‘reactionary Islam’ and liberate themselves as ‘the Jews did’ a century ago.

When I read junk like this, I really have to wonder how Atzmon ever got an invitation to speak at an SWP conference in Britain. Fortunately the comrades figured out that they were dealing with a first-class imbecile. Apparently Counterpunch’s standards are a bit lower as they continue to publish both Shamir and Atzmon as the spirit moves them.

I would repeat what I wrote about Shamir last July since it is equally applicable to Atzmon. While I would not give him a platform in either print or electronic format, I don’t think he represents a looming danger for Jews. The only damage that his articles pose are to logic, good sense, and political clarity.

…let me differentiate myself a bit from Žižek on the question of “threats” to the Jews. While I agree that the Arabs are not the Nazis of today, I am less inclined than he is to fret about anti-Semitism as a serious looming “existential” menace to the Jews. Perhaps his lack of interest in social and economic history (i.e., historical materialism) explains his dwelling over “superstructure” but there is a world of difference between traditional anti-Semitism and the speech or writings of a Hamas leader or Ahmadinejad. The persecution of the Jews in Czarist Russia and Nazi Germany was intimately linked to the terminal decay of capitalism that could only resolved through war and the use of scapegoats.

We are decidedly moving into a deadly constellation of events that might precipitate new outbreaks of pogroms and even extermination but the targets will not be the Jews who are not easily identifiable through their isolation in ghettos or their economic role as pawnbrokers, shopkeepers, etc. Instead, it will be the Roma, the undocumented worker from Northern Africa, the Mexican, or the Arab.

The left has to be vigilant against any form of racialist stupidity, whether it comes from a disturbed individual lacking a social base like Israel Shamir or someone like Ahmadinejad who lacked the common sense to not invite David Duke to a symposium on the holocaust in Tehran. We do so primarily because their words weaken our movement by leaving it open to the charge of racism. This is especially a problem given the ability of the mass media to control the discourse and make the criminal into the victim and the victim into the criminal, as Malcolm X once put it.

I will conclude with one of a series of articles I wrote on the Goldhagen thesis  before I began blogging. It deals with real anti-Semitism as opposed to the knuckle-dragging stupidity of an Israel Shamir or a Gilad Atzmon that is a threat to nobody. It puts the persecution of the Jews into a historical context that is unfortunately lacking in the well-meaning and often very intelligent articles on Atzmon from his critics on the left.

Abram Leon wrote “The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation” in 1941 when he was all of 24 years old and at a time when his hands were filled leading the Belgian Trotskyist movement under conditions of fascist repression. Eventually, the Gestapo captured him and sent him to Auschwitz. He did not make it out alive.

Leon’s first involvement with radical politics was with the Hashomir Hatzoir, a Zionist-socialist youth group. He grew disenchanted with Zionism and became a Trotskyist at the time of the Moscow trials. This showed a certain independent streak since the Hashomir-ites were pro-Stalin, as well as being Zionist.

While Leon devoted himself to the Trotskyist movement from this point on, he never lost interest in the “Jewish Question.” He was anxious to answer the claims of the Zionists, as well as explain the virulent anti-Semitism that had swept Germany. What was the explanation for the failure of the Jews to assimilate? Why had this peculiar combination of race, nationality and religious denomination persisted through the ages? What was the nature of the hatred against the outsider Jew?

Leon took his cue from Karl Marx who wrote in ” On the Jewish Question”, “We will not look for the secret of the Jew in his religion, but we will look for the secret of the religion in the real Jew.” This led Leon to examine the socio-economic relations that might explain both the identity of the Jews and, by the same token, their persecution.

He believed that the key to understanding the Jewish question was their status as a “people-class.” The Jews, according to Leon, “constitute historically a social group with a specific economic function. They are a class, or more precisely a people-class.” That economic function is tradesman. The Jew, from the days of the Babylonian exile, have functioned as tradesmen. Their location in the Mid-East facilitated commercial exchanges between Europe and Asia. As long as the Jew served in this economic capacity, the religious and national identity served to support his economic function.

Leon was strongly influenced in his views by Karl Kautsky, a leader of the Second International, who theorized the identity of a class with a people in pre-capitalist societies: “Different classes may assume the character of different races. On the other hand, the meeting of many races, each developing an occupation of its own, may lead to their taking up various callings or social positions within the same community: race becomes class.” The chief difference between Kautsky and Leon is that Leon made the equation between class and people specific. Where Kautsky saw tendencies, Leon saw a dialectical unity.

The period that lasted from classical antiquity to the Carolingian epoch was a time of prosperity and relative well-being for the Jews. In the Hellenistic era, Jews were part of the commercial elite in cities such as Alexandria, Antioch and Seleucia. The rise of the Roman Empire saw their continued success, as cities such as Alexandria continued to function as trading centers between the West and East. The role of Jews at Alexandria was so important that a Jew, Tiberius Julius Alexander, was appointed Roman governor of the city.

It is important to note that what united the Jews in this period was not wealth and power per se, but their economic role as tradesmen. Within the group were poorer peddlers and artisans. In the decline of the Roman Empire, many of these individuals were hardest hit. Their desperation, argues both Kautsky and Leon, explains the emergence of the Christianity cult which expressed class hatred of the rich in theological terms.

With the advent of the middle ages, the economic role of the Jew shifts somewhat. This is the period when the native merchant class begins to sell commodities produced in artisan workshops, the embryonic form of the factory. The trade that the Jew engaged in prior to this period was separate from production, but the Christian tradesman is part of the network of commodity exchange. Leon notes that “The evolution in exchange of medieval economy proved fatal to the position of the Jews in trade. The Jewish merchant importing spices into Europe and exporting slaves, is displaced by respectable Christian traders to whom urban industry supplies the principal products for their trading. This native commercial class collides violently with the Jews, occupants of an outmoded economic position, inherited from a previous period in historical evolution.”

These circumstances force the Jew to make his living as a usurer. He lends money to the feudal lords and the kings to finance their war expenditures and their luxuries. One of the main ways this is done is through “tax farming.” The King “farms out” the collection of tax revenues to a “Court Jew”, who gets a percentage of the take. My family name “Proyect” means the “counting house of a tax farmer.”

This primitive form of banking eventually clashes with banking based on the production of exchange values, which has been emerging during the same period as that of the artisan workshops and early factories. The usurer is hated not only by the lord to whom he charges high interest, but by the peasants who confront the Jew in his capacity as tax collector. The hatred builds to a fever pitch in places like London, Lincoln and Stafford, England in 1189 when massacres of Jews take place. Shakespeare’s “Shylock” reflects the lingering animosity toward the Jew long after these historical events took place and the Jew had been driven out of England. The most infamous campaign against the Jew took place in Spain during the Inquisition, when they were burned at the stake. The true motive was economic rivalry, according to Leon.

The Jews take flight to Eastern Europe and Poland in particular, where feudalism continues long after the emergence of capitalism in the West. An 1810 travel diary notes the following: “Poland should in all justice be called a Jewish kingdom… The cities and towns are primarily inhabited by them. Rarely will you find a village without Jews. Jewish taverns mark out all the main roads… Apart from some are manors which are administered by the lords themselves, all the others are farmed out or pledged to the Jews. They possess enormous capitals and no one can get along without their help. Only some very few very rich lords are not plunged up to their neck in debt with the Jews.”

In the late nineteenth century, capitalist property relations begin to develop in the Polish and Russian countryside. Lenin writes about this development in order to refute the Narodniks who held out the possibility of a village-based socialism. The transformation of Christian peasants into landless and debt-ridden laborers has dire consequences for the Jew who is not integrated into the new forms of capitalist property relations. They continue to act as intermediary between the peasant and plebeian masses in the countryside on one hand and the wastrel nobility in the big city on the other. As tensions arise, the first pogroms take place.

Also, at this time, the Jews begin to undergo class differentiation under the general impact of capitalism. A Jewish proletariat develops, which works in small artisan shops producing clothing and household utensils. This deeply oppressed social grouping is the target of pogroms, which indiscriminately attack rich and poor Jew alike. The deep insecurities of this period give rise to the Chassidic sects which function in much the same way that Christianity functions in the Roman Empire. It gives solace to a deeply insecure and economically miserable people.

Eventually the economic suffering takes its toll and mass migrations back to the West take place, both to Austria and Germany, and across the Atlantic to the United States. The ancestors of most Jews living in the United States arrived in this period.

Nobody could have predicted at the turn of the century the awful consequences of the exodus into Germany. Notwithstanding the vile utterances of Richard Wagner, Germany had a well-deserved reputation for tolerance. The German Jews, as opposed to their recently arrived Yiddish speaking brethren from the East, spoke German and were assimilationist to the core. Some of the Jewish elites tended to argue for acceptance of the new Hitlerite regime on its own terms, which they viewed as simply another species of ultra-nationalism.

For Leon, the rabid anti-Semitism of the post-WWI period fell into the same category as the age-old forms. It was virulent economic rivalry that grew out of the collapse of the German economy:

“The economic catastrophe of 1929 threw the petty-bourgeois masses into a hopeless situation. The overcrowding in small business, artisanry and the intellectual professions took on unheard of proportions. The petty-bourgeois regard his Jewish competitor with growing hostility, for the latter’s professional cleverness, the results of centuries of practice, often enabled him to survive ‘hard times’ more easily. Anti-Semitism even gained the ear of wide layers of worker-artisans, who traditionally had been under petty-bourgeois influences.”

When a Trotskyist veteran first presented this theory to me in 1967, it had powerful explanatory aspects. The true cause of anti-Semitism was the capitalist system, not some latent and free-floating animus toward the Jew. The key to the survival of the Jewish people was not the Zionist state of Israel, but the abolition of the capitalist system.

Recent controversy over the Goldhagen thesis, which tries to explain anti-Semitism in metaphysical terms, has forced me to rethink Leon’s nominally Marxist interpretation. We must revisit the question of the explanatory power of Leon’s thesis in light of the exterminationist policy of the Hitler regime. It is very likely that Leon himself had not been aware of the pending genocide, which did not take shape until 1943 at the Wansee Conference. Leon was trying to explain an anti-Semitism that was in many ways no more vicious than the anti-Black racism of the American south. The Nuremburg racial laws of 1935 stripped Jews of their German citizenry and made intermarriage illegal. This was deplorable, but after all Blacks could not vote or marry whites in the Deep South in 1935 either.

Another weakness of Leon’s work is that he de-emphasizes the people side of the people-class equation. Most of his work is devoted to an examination of the Jew’s relationship to the means of production, but very little to their religion, language, culture and values. This is one of the criticisms found in the chapter on Leon in Enzo Traverso’s “The Marxists and the Jewish Question: The History of a Debate 1843-1943″. The importance of this was driven home to me last night while I watched a 90 minute documentary on Jewish liturgical music on PBS. There is an immense variety of influences on Cantorial chanting. The Falashas of Ethiopia echo African harmonies, while the Turkish Jews employ the oud and tamboura, typical instruments of the region. In all cases, the prayers are nearly identical. The narrator of the documentary asks one Cantor for his explanation of the unity of the Jews over a 3500 year period, when other nationalities have disappeared from the face of the earth. His answer: the geographical dispersion of the Jews is the answer. If the Jews had remained tied to the same territory, they would have gone the way of the Babylonians, Romans, Greeks, etc. This certainly makes wonder if an ironic twist lies in store for the state of Israel.

It could be argued that this deficiency in Leon has a lot to do with the exigencies of trying to write about the social and economic factors when so many others had covered the cultural aspects. It is more likely, as Traverso points out most tellingly, that the reason for this lack has to do with Leon’s intellectual dependence on Kautsky.

Kautsky’s Marxism was deeply problematic. It comes close to economic determinism. The Second International tended to follow a simplistic base-superstructure model of Marxism. At its worst, it allowed social democrats to side with the bourgeoisie against the Russian Revolution. Since the base of the Russian economy was not fully mature in a capitalist sense, the Bolshevik seizure of power was premature, adventuristic and would lead to dictatorship.

The same methodological error appears in Leon. He tries to explain German anti-Semitism almost exclusively in economic terms. The problem, however, is that this explanation tends to break down when the Nazi regime institutes the death camps. After all, there is no plausible economic explanation for such behavior. It can only be called madness.

In 1933, ten years before the death camps, Leon Trotsky wrote “What is National Socialism.” This article does an excellent job of diagnosing the madness of the Nazi movement which had just taken power:

“Fascism has opened up the depths of society for politics. Today, not only in peasant homes but also in city skyscrapers, there lives alongside of the twentieth century the tenth of the thirteenth. A hundred million people use electricity and still believe in the magic power of signs and exorcisms. The Pope of Rome broadcasts over the radio about the miraculous transformation of water into wine. Movie stars go to mediums. Aviators who pilot miraculous mechanisms created by man’s genius wear amulets on their sweaters. What inexhaustible reserves they possess of darkness, ignorance, and savagery! Despair has raised them to their feet, fascism has given them a banner. Everything that should have been eliminated from the national organism in the form of cultural excrement in the course of the normal development of society has now come gushing out from the throat; capitalist society is puking up the undigested barbarism. Such is the psychology of National Socialism.”

Nazism as undigested barbarism seems much closer to the mark than the base-superstructure model. Trotsky goes even further than this. In 1938, a midway point between date of the preceding article, and the death camps, Trotsky predicts the impending genocide. In December of that year, in an appeal to American Jews, he writes: “It is possible to imagine without difficulty what awaits the Jews at the mere outbreak of the future world war. But even without war the next development of world reaction signifies with certainty the physical extermination of the Jews.”

These remarks are cited in the first paragraph of Norman Geras’s “Marxists before the Holocaust”, an article which appears in the special July/August 1997 issue of New Left Review on the holocaust. This issue features a lengthy critique by Norman Finkelstein on Goldhagen. While Finkelstein’s rather devastating attack on the scholarship and implicitly pro-Zionist ideas of Goldhagen have achieved a high profile, Geras’s article is worthy of discussion as well, since it occupies a space much closer to Goldhagen’s than to Marxism.

Geras argues that Marxism can not explain the holocaust. His attack is not directed at Leon’s economic determinism. Rather it is directed at Trotsky and Ernest Mandel who try to explain the holocaust as an expression of capitalism in its most degenerate and irrational phase. Geras says that the murder of the Jews is radically different than the bombing of Hiroshima, the war in Indochina and other acts of imperialist barbarism cited by Mandel in an effort to put the genocide in some kind of context. The difference between the death camps and the slaughter of the Vietnamese people is one of quantity, not quality. This outrages Geras, who says that Mandel and the German “revisionist” historian Ernst Nolte should be paired.

“What follows should only be said bluntly. Within this apologia there is a standpoint bearing a formal resemblance to something I have criticized in Mandel. I mean the energetic contextualization of Nazi crimes by Nolte, even while briefly conceding their singular and unprecedented character: his insistence that they belong to the same history of modern times as the American war in Vietnam, the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, the exodus from Vietnam of the boat people–a ‘holocaust on the water’–the Cambodian genocide, the repression following on the Iranian revolution, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and, above all, the liquidation of the kulaks, and the Gulag. Against that backdrop, Nolte urged that the Third Reich ‘should be removed from the isolation in which it still finds itself.’ This is what came, in the debate in question, to be called ‘relativization’ of the Holocaust; and it is what Mandel himself calls it in taking issue with Nolte’s views. Mandel continues even now to assert that the Holocaust was an extreme product of tendencies which are historically more general. But he perceives a need, evidently, to balance the assertion with a greater emphasis on the singularity of the Jews.”

Geras says that he will try at some point to offer his own analysis of why the Jews were exterminated. Since I am not familiar with his work, I hesitate to predict what shape it will take. I suspect that there will be liberal appropriation of the type of idealist obfuscation contained in Goldhagen. That would be unfortunate. What is needed to understand Nazism is not essentialist readings of German history, but a more acute historical materialist understanding of these tragic events.

When I was in grade school in the 1950s in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York, there were large numbers of Jews who spent their summers there and shopped in my father’s fruit store. I remember seeing the tattoos of numbers on many of their forearms and asked my father what they represented. It was very unusual for a Jew to be tattooed because orthodox rituals stipulated that you must be buried with the same outward appearance you were born with. He explained to me that these Jews had been in concentration camps and murdered by the millions. The shoppers with tattoos were “survivors.” I did not understand this. What was their crime to be punished so?

In the 1950s, a time of deep material abundance and spiritual poverty, there was something else that I could not understand. We had to practice nuclear air-raid drills in our school. We had to “duck and cover” in the basement of the building. This would protect us from a H-bomb. This seemed crazy to me. If the United States and the USSR had an all-out nuclear war, wouldn’t everybody die? A blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter wrote “The Boy With Green Hair” in these years to dramatize what I and every other 7 year old was thinking.

Why would anybody consider the possibility and prepare for nuclear war, which would be a new Holocaust of even greater dimensions than the Nazi murder of the Jews. This Holocaust would kill everybody on the planet and all living things. Measured by the ordinary laws and values of capitalist society, this made no sense at all.

No, it did not make any sense whatsoever, but the Pentagon was planning on just such scenarios. Not only was it escalating the arms race, it engaged in nuclear brinksmanship over and over again. Nixon argued for an A-bomb attack on the Viet Mihn forces at Dien Bhien-Phu in 1954. Kennedy brought the world to the brink of war in his confrontation over Cuban missiles. While nuclear war did not occur, the chances were not so remote as to be beyond comprehension.

The American government was not run by madmen, who were representative of “undigested barbarism.” Oliver Stone, the film-maker who is supposedly highly sensitive to madmen, has made films which attempt to burnish the reputation of Nixon and JFK alike. “Our” capitalist politicians would never blow up the world, would they? Well, yes they probably wouldn’t.

But try to imagine a United States in steep economic decline, mired in imperialist war on three continents. Instead of Bill Clinton in the White House, imagine Pat Buchanan or David Duke instead. He is advised by Christian fundamentalists in the Cabinet who believe that we are in the “final days” before Armageddon. If the reward of Christian soldiers is life eternal at the right hand of Jesus Christ, perhaps all-out nuclear war against Communist or Muslim infidels “makes sense.”

The point is that capitalism has a deeply irrational streak. The system is prone to wars and economic crisis. It should have been abolished immediately after World War One. The only reason that is wasn’t is that the revolutionary movement came under the control of Stalin, who time and time again showed that he did not understand how to defeat capitalist reaction. The success of Hitler is directly attributable to the failure of the German Communist Party to fight him effectively.

Unless the socialist movement finds a way to put an end to capitalism and disarm the war-makers, the survival of the planet remains in question. While we can not “explain” the genocide adequately no matter how sharp our theoretical weapons, one thing is for sure. We have a sufficient explanation for the need to abolish capitalism: it is an inherently irrational system which threatens the human race.

July 20, 2011

Israel Shamir and Slavoj Žižek

Filed under: anti-Semitism — louisproyect @ 7:22 pm

Despite my general aversion to Slavoj Žižek, I want to defend him against the misrepresentations found in Israel Shamir’s Counterpunch article from July 14th titled “Doing a Full Monty for Tel Aviv: Žižek and the Gaza Flotilla“. As I will point out, Žižek is not above criticism but Shamir’s article is nothing but a hatchet job.

As is customary with Shamir, there is a tendency to make an amalgam between Israelis and Jews:

Without Europeans, passage of a pro-Palestinian resolution is unlikely – this as Europe agonizes over even the thought of upsetting Jews.

Never has Jewish stock climbed to such dizzy heights; it has surpassed its historical limits, ascending to loony peaks that bespeak the Dotcom madness of 2000.

This blurring of categories is typical of those who have not mastered a class analysis, a fault that regrettably is far too common with many Counterpunch contributors.

In order to answer Shamir, I forced myself to watch the entire Youtube video of Žižek’s talk to a small group of Israeli leftists. For the life of me, I can’t understand how he has become a celebrity on the left. Leaving aside the merits of his ideas, I find his “style” impossibly strained and irony-sodden to the point of capsizing.

Now, it is possible that a couple of the quotes Shamir attributed to Žižek that I could not find in the Youtube video were either made after the camera stopped rolling or were simply words put in his mouth. But leaving that aside, the more overarching question was one of reportorial accuracy. I simply could not recognize Žižek’s talk as an exercise in convincing his audience “that fighting anti-Semitism is more important than defending Palestinians.”

It is true that the talk was mostly about anti-Semitism but you cannot deduce from that any kind of hostility to the Palestinian cause. If Shamir were more of a serious student of Žižek’s views and willing to put in 10 minutes of background research he would realize that the talk was simply a recapitulation of an analysis that Žižek has been making for years. As the New Republic, an arch-Zionist publication, put it, “the form that Žižek’s remarks on Jews take is that of an exposition of the mentality of the anti-Semite.”

In other words, Žižek was interested in examining the difference between the anti-Semitism of a displaced Palestinian and that of an emerging right-populist/neo-fascist movement in Europe. He came down foursquare on the greater danger of the latter, while stressing the need for Arabs to eliminate anti-Semitism from their ranks. Shamir quoted Žižek as stating that “even the most oppressed and poor Palestinian should not be tolerated for being anti-Semitic.” Well, of course. This should be obvious. Not only is hatred of Jews as a people reactionary, it is also a weapon that the Zionists use against the Palestinian struggle. It would have been better for groups like Hamas and Hizbollah never to have made the kinds of verbal or written gaffes that allow Israeli leaders to demagogically liken them to the Nazis.

According to Shamir, Žižek said that “The real suffering, and the real problem, is European and American anti-Semitism”. He added, “Does the professor know something we don’t? Are European and American Jews being tortured in dark dungeons while their houses are confiscated by blue-eyed Aryans?” Now this is one of those quotes I could not pin down while watching the video, but it was clear to me that the real point was the one I alluded to above. For Žižek, there was much more of a history of genuine racial violence and oppression in Europe and America than there ever was in the Arab world. Furthermore, Žižek did not claim that there is any immediate threat of houses being confiscated but he was completely right to point out the growth of far-right movements in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union that hearken back to traditional anti-Semitism.

There’s another quote I could not locate: “The Slovenian philosopher spoke kindly of the swindler Bernie Madoff, who was ‘a scapegoat who was easy to blame, when in fact the real problem is the system that allowed and even pushed Madoff to commit his crimes‘”.

Now, I don’t know how “kindly” it is to characterize Madoff as a scapegoat, but Žižek is completely correct. By focusing so much on his Ponzi scheme, the media was able to portray the financial crisis as the work of “evil people” rather than the capitalist system itself. Shamir, who knows as much about Marxism based on the evidence of his writings as I do about the origins of the universe, would naturally be hostile to such an interpretation. As a crude conspiracy theorist who sees the Zionist lobby as a pulling the strings of the US government, he would naturally be disposed to seeing the economic system being run in the same fashion.

There is one quote that is disturbing and that I was able to pinpoint:

Žižek said that “someone from the Democratic Republic of Congo would sell his mother into slavery in a heartbeat for the chance to move to the West Bank”.

The problem is that Shamir omitted the words that immediately prefaced this, in which Žižek warned the audience that he was about to make a “provocative” statement. Žižek was talking about the tendency of some on the left to overstate the evil of Zionism, equating it with Nazism, etc. Clearly, a more precise characterization of Israeli society is required, especially in light of the left’s tendency to see fascism at all times and everywhere. Whenever I have run into such an equation, I tend to say, “No, Israel is not like Nazi Germany. It is much more like apartheid South Africa.”

This, however, points to a flaw in Žižek’s style, which is one of searching for attention—almost to the point of narcissism. The poor chap seems to hope for people to say something like “Did you hear what Žižek said?”, as if he were aspiring to be Marxism’s counterpart of Howard Stern. Clearly, a more grounded and measured approach is required.

Turning now to Shamir, the question of his anti-Semitism must be examined. Perhaps the most glaring example for most of his critics is an article titled “Bloodcurdling Libel” that is filled with weird theological free associations and essentialist humbug like this:

However, it is the belief in Jewish (not Palestinian) ritual child murders that was widespread and persistent. The old Jewish Encyclopaedia, Vol. III, 266, lists the following cases, beginning with William of Norwich: 5 other cases given for the twelfth century, 15 for the thirteenth, 10 for the fourteenth, 16 for the fifteenth, 13 for the sixteenth, 8 for the seventeenth, 15 for the eighteenth, and 39 for the nineteenth, going right up to the year 1900 (total 113). There have been more cases in the [6] 20th century. What is the reason for this belief? Was there a world-wide and centuries-spanning conspiracy to implicate innocent Jews in heinous crime or is there a crime behind accusations?

Normally, my instinct would lead me to get to the bottom of such a bizarre train of thought, but I realized that it would not be worth it. Clearly, you are dealing with a crank.

Most of Shamir’s articles that are written along these lines are not stereotypical racist attacks on Jews but rather attempts to give undue weight to those who make them. While such a distinction might be not worth making, I am simply trying to point out that the author is clever enough to have fooled the editors of Counterpunch who are a bit challenged when it comes to this sort of toxic waste.

Finally, let me differentiate myself a bit from Žižek on the question of “threats” to the Jews. While I agree that the Arabs are not the Nazis of today, I am less inclined than he is to fret about anti-Semitism as a serious looming “existential” menace to the Jews. Perhaps his lack of interest in social and economic history (i.e., historical materialism) explains his dwelling over “superstructure” but there is a world of difference between traditional anti-Semitism and the speech or writings of a Hamas leader or Ahmadinejad. The persecution of the Jews in Czarist Russia and Nazi Germany was intimately linked to the terminal decay of capitalism that could only resolved through war and the use of scapegoats.

We are decidedly moving into a deadly constellation of events that might precipitate new outbreaks of pogroms and even extermination but the targets will not be the Jews who are not easily identifiable through their isolation in ghettos or their economic role as pawnbrokers, shopkeepers, etc. Instead, it will be the Roma, the undocumented worker from Northern Africa, the Mexican, or the Arab.

The left has to be vigilant against any form of racialist stupidity, whether it comes from a disturbed individual lacking a social base like Israel Shamir or someone like Ahmadinejad who lacked the common sense to not invite David Duke to a symposium on the holocaust in Tehran. We do so primarily because their words weaken our movement by leaving it open to the charge of racism. This is especially a problem given the ability of the mass media to control the discourse and make the criminal into the victim and the victim into the criminal, as Malcolm X once put it.

April 10, 2011

MRZine regular circulates anti-Semitic filth

Filed under: anti-Semitism — louisproyect @ 10:01 pm

This is from the Sons of Malcolm blog of Sukant Chandan, a British citizen of Indian origin who has become quite the regular on MRZine:

The US State Dept and its Jewish cadres have been agitating the Egyptian youth movement since 2008 according to many references published on the internet. So this is something the US has been working on. Not just exploited after the fact, but guided. True the millions didn’t take to the street for the love of America, but the millions don’t have any clear direction so the youth who have taken classes with America’s State Dept. Jews are giving them guidance. And if there’s no leadership that actually does raise the international issues, then those won’t be raised by the masses spontaneously.

And if the youth in Jordan are deliberately avoiding these big issues as it may seem, and if they are going to limit their activity to that which the US can accept, then what good is this activity?

It doesn’t really matter if Chandan did not write this filth himself. He made the decision to publish the article by Muhammad Nasr, a long-time anti-Semite who writes for http://freearabvoice.org/. And Furuhashi made the decision to publish Chandan, who is backward and ignorant enough to feature this garbage on his blog.

It is also telling that the article was dated March 28, long after charges about State Department involvement with the anti-Mubarak youth had been discredited (I leave the business about “Jewish cadres” in the toilet where it belongs). It gives you a good idea of the conspiratorial mindset of the MRZine/Sons of Malcolm/Michel Chossudovsky wing of the left (I use the term left charitably.)

This Chandan is a real piece of work. He was sending links to his junk to the Marxmail list when he was a subscriber for a brief time. When I demanded that he at least try to defend his low-level synthesis of what he thought Marxism was (I imagine it came mostly from staring at Che Guevara posters) and radical Islam (and the al-Qaeda strain most alarmingly), he refused. I can’t remember whether I unsubbed him or he unsubbed himself. Needless to say, I should have booted him a week or so after he showed up. I remember Weatherpeople on acid trips from the 70s who made more sense than him.

Although Richard Seymour has erred in the past by providing a platform for the equally daffy Furuhashi on his blog, I think his most recent encounter with Chandan will inoculate him against this “anti-imperialist” mental ward. He spoke at a debate about intervention in Libya on the same side as Chandan but found himself feeling more akin to the other side in the debate after listening to the drivel coming out of Chandan’s mouth:

But he was relatively innocuous compared to Sukant Chandan, whose breathtaking defence of the Qadhafi regime and insistence on hectoring Libyans present, including Hamid from the Libyan Youth Movement, left activists infuriated. I mean, literally fuming. Sukant’s opening line was a cracker, to be sure. “Qadhafi never called me a p***. My beef is not with Qadhafi, it’s with the Brits.” The subsequent argument involved harnessing unexceptionable observations about imperialism to a less tenable argument that Qadhafi’s regime represented some kind of advanced welfare state, and that his opponents are ‘Contras’. He also argued that the uprising in Syria was an imperialist subvention, intended to undermine Hezbollah. Stunned gasps and disbelieving laughter from the Libyan activists in the audience.

Hamid offered only a qualified and very reluctant defence of the NATO intervention. “We did not want NATO to come, but what alternatives did we have? No one helped us, no one armed us. We know what the West is about, we know what NATO is – but if someone tells us what the alternative is, I will be happy to hear it.” I don’t agree with this, for reasons you know well enough, and I admit I rolled my eyes impatiently when he claimed that Libya had carried out Lockerbie. But he ended up spending far more of his time attempting to defend the reputation of the revolution from its calumniator, and to this extent I found I had far more in common with him than I had with the Son of Malcolm. At one point, as Sukant repeatedly barracked Hamid, demanding that he stipulate his opposition to Africom setting up a base in Libya and confirm that Palestine is the number one issue for Middle Eastern freedom – yes, literally, demanded – an Egyptian woman stood up and begged him to “drop it”. “This is why people are pissed off with you. It’s not about imperialism, we agree with you on all of that, it’s that you’re so arrogant!” After a few more mouthfuls of frustrated anger, she walked out. And there was more where that came from. As the crowd dwindled, people walking out or just drifting away, and the heckling and back and forth with audience members became more chaotic, the only people who backed Sukant up were a small amen corner, who nodded along at his most obvious pronouncements.

Now I doubt that Harry Magdoff’s Jewishness amounted to anything more than a taste for pastrami sandwiches, but I wonder what he would make of his imprint being associated with the likes of Sukant Chandan. I have heard that the crew who runs MR often rejects submissions because they are not “MR” enough. Maybe they can solicit something from Sukant Chandan and Muhammad Nasr along the lines of “How Jewish cadres of the State Department are behind the Arab Revolution”. That I am afraid would be MR enough.

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