Herr Naphta


Image: A recent photo
of Herr Naphta


“Herr Naphta” somehow manages to outdo even Herr Vogt in terms of his sheer buffoonery.

Striking the gravest pose of which such a buffoon is capable, Herr Naphta gleefully announces:

I don’t get denounced by pompous racist asshats every day, but when I do, I buy a bunch of beers and celebrate. [italics mine]

Those unfamiliar with Herr Naphta’s collected works might at first mistake this for a just a passing counter-denunciation, improvised on the spot. Looks can be deceiving, though. “Pompous racist asshats” has a precise — nay, a scientific — meaning within his sublimely banal blog of Marxist marginalia.

Maiakovskii/Rodchenko, beer advertisement

Maiakovskii/Rodchenko, beer advertisement

Of course, it’s first important that we first find out who exactly Naphta’s referring to with this noble phrase. By “pompous racist asshats,” Naphta is here doubtless referring to none other than yours truly, the author who’s presently writing these lines. In this instance, the occasion for his proposed bacchanalia is the recent “denunciation” he received on this blog.

Investigating the matter further, however, we might see how Herr Naphta deploys this concept in a slightly different context. Let’s take a look at his “Reactionary Round-up,” written as the Arab Spring was first unfolding in  January 2011, to get a better sense of what he means:

Pamela Geller, white supremacist cheerleader, applauds Mubarak’s repression of the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the leading forces for democratic reform in the country [i.e., Egypt]. [my italics]

This is a tricky passage for several reasons. First of all, there’s the issue of the slightly different phrasing. Make no mistake: “pompous racist asshat” and “white supremacist cheerleader” are practically synonymous, the only difference between them being the implied gender connotations of “cheerleader.”

Second, it is easy to let the obvious truth of the first part of the sentence overshadow the no less obvious falsity of the second part of the sentence. It is not difficult to see that the sentence contains two equations, prepositionally attached to the proper nouns they’re each meant to describe. To lay all this out a little more clearly:

1. Pamela Geller = “white supremacist cheerleader”
2. the Muslim Brotherhood = “one of the leading forces for democratic reform in the country [Egypt]”

The first formulation enumerated above is fairly uncontroversial. Very few would object to such an equation; you’d certainly get no disagreement from me. The second formulation, one hopes, is slightly less obvious. Especially after Morsi’s invocation of a state of emergency in a failed attempt to elevate himself to the status of a “new Pharaoh” (to quote Mohamed ElBaradei‘s tweet) last November, the state’s brutal repression of demonstrators in Tahrir Square not long thereafter, and his obsequious overtures toward his “great and good friend,” the Israeli President Shimon Peres. Would Herr Naphta be so insane as to uphold such a view today?


Pointing out a party’s past positions is “sectarian”

Now to be sure, Pamela Geller is not for this reason any less of a disgusting reactionary. But does this somehow serve to validate the erroneous claim that the Muslim Brotherhood is or ever was “one of the leading forces for democratic reform in the country”? Clearly not. Yet this is precisely what the Revolutionary Socialists maintained when they Skyped in from Cairo to speak at their co-thinkers’ yearly conference in Chicago last summer. There the Cliffites claimed:

The victory of Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, is a great achievement in helping to push back this counter-revolution and push back this coup d’etat. For now, this is a real victory for the Egyptian masses and a real victory for the Egyptian revolution.

Many people, especially in the West, and also over here, have an Islamophobic attitude that does not allow them to see the nature of the Muslim Brotherhood. So many people here, even on the left, could say that there’s no real difference between Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Shafiq, the candidate of the military — that they’re both counter-revolutionary forces, and the victory of any of them is a victory of the counterrevolution and a defeat for the Egyptian revolution.

Now this is a complete mistaken view of what is actually happening and of the nature of the Muslim Brotherhood and of the Islamists in Egypt and the Arab world. The Islamists are reformists.

…and then less than a year later these very same “reformists” in the Muslim Brotherhood, who the Revolutionary Socialists helped usher into power, sanctioned brutal police repression that ended in the death of one of their youngest members, Ahmad Sami, a 17 year old high school student who was killed in Port Said by live ammunition. Live ammunition fired by police ordered in to quell the riots by Morsi’s henchmen in the Muslim Brotherhood. Perhaps it’s time to question the whole assumption that “the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamists in Egypt and the Arab world” are reformists.

But the Revolutionary Socialists’ endorsement of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood this last summer was not some isolated “miscalculation,” but part of a broader pattern of opportunism and complicity within the IST toward Islamist reactionaries of all sorts. It’s incompatible with anything within the tradition of historical Marxism they claim to inherit. Still, whenever anyone raises criticisms of this kind, there’s an automatic attempt to dismiss it all as just “Islamophobia” or dismiss it as just petty sectarian sniping and bickering. Real leftists, they say, should really be showing “comradely” support for one another, because that’s supposedly how Marx, Engels, Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky, etc. treated other socialists (politely and with kid gloves on). The most comradely thing I can imagine for situations like these, however, is to point out the insanity of such suicidal positions.

So how does one become a “pompous racist asshat,” anyway? Merely by recognizing that the Muslim Brotherhood could never have been counted on as “reformers”? Please.


A few other misstatements that require brief ripostes. First,

[S]omeone needs to point out that Wolfe is using a classic anti-Semitic trope by comparing S.B. to a giant octopus with his tentacles in everything.

Occasionally, though usually that’s in more recent history. The representation of a country or individual as an octopus long predates its antisemitic usage, as it was an extremely popular figure within cartographic symbology, appearing on countless maps down through the ages. The giant octopus in the recent diagnostic sketch I drew referred back immediately to John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil, which were represented countless times as an octopus. As in the following:


Rockefeller was not Jewish. Second,

I can’t believe constructivism is being dragged through the mud in this thread. Malevich is spinning in his grave being linked to this fool.

The only reason Malevich would be spinning in his Suprematist coffin would be because some “fool” just implied that he was ever a Constructivist, an artistic current he partially helped to inspire but opposed adamantly from the moment Tatlin founded it in 1918.

This isn’t quibbling. It’s a simple matter of fact. Do not speak on matters about which you know nothing. See below.

Kazimir Malevich's suprematist coffin

Kazimir Malevich’s suprematist coffin

Third, concerning “hysteria” and any sexist connotations that the word might still carry with it. Everyone knows the etymology and the word’s derivation from the Greek word for “uterus” (ὑστέρα), not least of all Lenin and Trotsky, who demonstrated their casual knowledge of Greek roots on more than one occasion. So the “gendered” origins of this word would not have been unknown to them. This didn’t prevent Trotsky, a vocal supporter of Freudian psychoanalysis, from invoking the old psychiatric concept of “hysteria” [истерия] repeatedly within the space of a single article in 1914? “Mass hysteria” [мaссовой истерии]? “Epidemic hysteria” [эпидемическую истерию]?

Also, all of the “hysterical materialists” I mentioned were men. In my experience, at least, it’s the men who are much more prone to hysterical outbursts in response to these (clearly satirical) blog posts than women. Go figure.

Incidentally, “historical materialism” and “hysterical materialism” appear even more similar in Russian than in English, since there isn’t the issue of the “i” or “y” for the same basic sound:

1. истореческий материализм
2. истереческий материализм

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