Race, religion, and class:
Problems and pitfalls of
a theoretical synthesis
Overview of the problem
For whatever reason, at least from the outside, there seems some sort of slow convergence unfolding between communization theory and decolonial critique. Whether this attests to any inner necessity in the logic of either field, or from accidental affinities common to enthusiasts of both, is difficult to tell. My bet is that it’s the latter. Geographical proximity often compresses unlike milieux, with only vaguely related groups suddenly shoved into a single space, made to live side by side. People are able to pass through any number of circles, carrying with them a cumulus of curiosities and concerns. Sometimes this leads to interesting intellectual cross-pollination or collaboration. Berlin in the decades following Hegel’s death. Vienna around the fin de siècle. Oakland has given us Endnotes, which by itself is enough to forgive it many minor sins. Usually these scenes just result in ill-conceived eclecticism, though, fruitless exchanges and shambling conceptual absurdities. Academic conferences offer a suitably fetid ecosystem in which such bogstandard theories can thrive. Russell Jacoby observed this phenomenon some forty years ago in Dialectic of Defeat:
Literature about Marxism threatens to drown both the theory and its students. To the cynical it confirms the obsolescence of Marxism: It has fled the streets and factories for the halls and offices of the university. The struggle to publish replaces the class struggle. Academics jet to conferences to hawk competing brands of Marxism; a consumer’s guide is practically required to stay abreast of all the offerings and recalls: structural Marxism, semiotic Marxism, feminist Marxism, hermeneutic Marxism, phenomenological Marxism, critical Marxism, and so on.
Not a lot has been done as yet to bring these two discourses into conversation in the Anglophone world. George Ciccariello-Maher is, in all probability, the person who would be best situated to broker a meeting. He’s already intervened in a roundtable on “Dual Power and the Dialectic of Communization,” as well as presented a paper on “Communization, Venezuela Style,” though it’s not clear he has all that much in common with the communisateurs beyond shared verbiage and a few mutual friends on Facebook. Ciccariello-Maher broadly understands his own critical outlook as “decolonial.” LIES: A Journal of Materialist Feminism dabbles in communization, and it has mentioned “contemporary decolonial subjecthood” in the past. But there’s been no sustained effort to synthesize communization theories and decolonial critiques, which might ultimately be for the best. Of the two, I find communization to be a far more promising theoretical field. Even if I disagree with its prognostications about the sun having set on programmatism, it poses serious questions to the present and seeks to take stock of emerging struggles and shifting realities. Decolonial criticism is, by contrast, in my opinion a complete waste of time. Reading Ramón Grosfoguel has actually made me dumber. (I know that’s hard to believe). Walter Mignolo, Enrique Dussel, etc. don’t say anything all that earth-shattering or insightful. Achille Mbembe is occasionally great, but I do not think he is even remotely similar to the other figures just named.
Since there haven’t really been any works in English to combine or negotiate these perspectives, this post deals with a French author who has devoted quite a bit of time to precisely this: Patlotch. My reading comprehension of French isn’t great, but he is a lively and entertaining writer with extensive knowledge of communization as well as decoloniality. Also, he has the virtue of having “conducted his philosophical education in public,” as Hegel wrote of Schelling, so we can actually see his thought process as he tries to work out some of these issues. His comments about Jews are pretty fucked up, to say nothing of his race-baiting of Yves Coleman. To be sure, other syntheses of communization theory with decolonial critique may be possible — his work doesn’t exhaust all possibility — but this at provides a place to start.
Patlotch is an enigmatic character. Claude Guillon explains that his handle is an (unimpressive) anagram derived from the Situationist journal Potlatch, with just two letters switched. An erstwhile fellow traveler [compagnon de route], from roughly 2005 to 2010, of the communization current in France, Patlotch had initially approached Guillon after reading a short piece from in 2013 critiquing Léon de Mattis and the international communist review Sic. Communization was an “unthinkable project” [l’impensable projet], as Guillon put it at the time, an appraisal that resonated with the young Patlotch. Eventually, the impetuous lad turned on kindly old Guillon, cursing him as a “cadaver” with a wink at André Breton before slinging his body into a ditch alongside Yves Coleman and his ilk. The offense? Well, to have written “And ‘God’ Created Islamophobia,” of course. Frankly, I don’t hold this apprehension against him, when it comes to this term’s possible censorious use. Guillon knows what it’s like to be censored firsthand. Suicide: A How-to Guide [Suicide, mode d’emploi], a survey of the various methods and techniques people have used to kill themselves, was written with Yves le Bonniec in 1982 and released that same year. Just five years later, however, it was banned by the French government and promptly withdrawn from circulation. But Patlotch, enfant terrible of the online ultraleft circuit, grants no such leniency to poor Guillon.
Young Patlotch has many scores to settle and axes to grind, as will be shown in the course of this post. Anselm Jappe, Clément Homs, Bernard Lyon, and Jacques Wajnsztejn are all summoned to stand trial next to Coleman and Guillon, charged as crypto-Zionists, race traitors, and Eurocentric chauvinists… or worse.
Attempts at a synthesis
Until a few months ago, Patlotch made it his task to reconcile two streams of contemporary radical thought which prima facie appear unrelated, if not totally irreconcilable — communization theory and decolonial critique. In one of his earlier efforts to synthesize these two elements, dated May 2015, he begins by highlighting points of contact between them. Even if only a preliminary sketch, it boldly affirms that “communization theory justly criticizes everything that falls under the scope of proletarian programmatism, or its heritage in radical democratism.” Furthermore, “it criticizes those who use the concept of communization without having understood that the rationale [justification] for setting forth… immediate ‘communizing’ interventions derives from [the fact that] ‘realities of communism’ are presented not as struggles, a movement, but as achievements [réalisations], a postcapitalist world avant la lettre.” As recently as February 2016, Patlotch can still be seen touting this thesis as the chief theoretical contribution of the communisateurs: “The concept [sic] of communization is the only one to have clearly signified the impossibility of any revolutionary affirmation of workers’ identity… and theorize its foundation in the reality of capitalist crisis as such. No other communist theory poses the question in this way.” Hence Patlotch’s interest in retaining communization’s insights (or, at any rate, in using them as a point of departure for his own inquiries). One gets a sense of the directions he’d like to take it in by reading some jottings from January 2014, playing around with the idea of introducing “intersectionality” to expand its methodological scope, looking “for an update of communization theories” [pour une mise à jour des théories de la communisation].
Patlotch adds that theories like communization cannot be verified politically and strategically, of course, as this would entail a return to programmatist principles. Rather, it can only be falsified insofar as it proves disconnected from existing social realities, or perhaps if ideological inconsistencies are discovered in the sphere of ideas. Decolonial theory clearly faces many of these same problems. “We do not envision a theoretical ‘syncretism’ between communization and decoloniality as the definitive corpus of a separate theory, but as an intellectual component in the communist fight aiming at the abolition of capital, racism [racialism], and masculine domination,” writes Patlotch in a July 2015 entry, emphasizing the practical and provisional character of his proposed synthesis. Two months prior, he had presented himself as uniquely qualified to mediate between these respective poles. “In a way, I am in an awkward position [en porte-à-faux] in both fields, that of communization as well as that of decoloniality,” he states drolly. Still, Patlotch keeps his distance from each, as he is in the midst of breaking with communizers like Mattis and drifting toward decolonizers like Saïd Bouamama et al.; yet with respect to the latter, he clarifies: “our theory of decolonial communization [notre théorie de la communisation décoloniale] is not theirs” — i.e., there’s some novelty involved here on Patlotch’s part. Communization nonetheless seems to lend itself to decolonial reworking. “[F]ar from being opposed or intrinsically contradictory, communization and decoloniality are complementary and mutually reinforce each other’s practical efficacy [efficience] and theoretical pertinence in struggles of the decolonial class.” Leaving aside the issue of whether “indigenous” portions of the populace constitute a class in the Marxian sense, it’s obvious communization theory and decolonial critique are judged to be congruent.
A brief note concerning this peculiar nomenclature: Patlotch states that he “distinguishes the concept of the indigenous [as] racialized proles [prolos racialisés], from its usage in the political strategy of the Parti des Indigènes de la République, a self-deprecating [auto-dérisoire] provocation or ironic appellation that claims to represent the terrain of political and media institutions.” To be clear, though, he does not draw this distinction in order to discredit the PIR’s use of such language or question its choice of terminology. Merely, he hopes to thereby add a class content to the condition of indigineity or decoloniality. Yet another instance of Patlotch’s attempt to bring decolonial thought into dialogue with communization theory, along with other strains of Marxism. “By adopting the title of decolonial communism,” he wrote in July 2015, stressing the latter term, “we address several criticisms: 1) On the one hand, we brush away the reproach that we ‘support’ the PIR, most of whose leaders — even those who’d been Trotskyists — reject Marxism and communism, a fortiori. 2) On the other, we deflect any attempt to assimilate that which has led Marxism and anarchism to reject the very need for a self-organization of indigenous struggles. Combining [réunissant], in a dynamic manner, communization’s fight to abolish capital with immediate struggles.for the decolonization of the world, we battle along inverted fronts — à propos the articulation of classes/‘races’.[classes-‘races’].— against these two leftisms, which confront each other as fraternal enemies on the terrain of political representation between competition and alliance.”
Nevertheless, Patlotch does not grant these sides equal weight. He seems to assign priority to the decolonial side of this synthesis, to ground communization in the breakdown of colonial empires along the periphery and the self-assertion of racial minorities around the metropolitan core of global capitalist society in the sixties. Quoting Sic’s own framing of its historical outlook, which Patlotch sees as a major improvement on that of Theorie Communiste, he reflects on one of its offhand references to periodization. Sic asserted in 2009 that “it is the impossibility for proletarians to affirm themselves as what they are in this society, as well as the new forms of women’s struggles and struggles over ‘race’ (i.e., against racialization) that have developed since the 1960s, which makes the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ and the ‘transition period’ obsolete today.” Indeed, for Patlotch the “racial” dimension [la dimension «raciale»] takes on an almost structural significance, since only from the non-white position within the power structure of white supremacy is the total abolition of white Western colonial dominance possible. One of the repercussions of 1492 (according to Sadri Khiari, whose authority Patlotch.invokes),.is.that.racial.minorities are never fully integrated into the political economy of capital or subjected to normal market pressures. They thus partially escape the grip of real subsumption, a difference usually compensated for through the direct application of force as objects of extraordinary state repression (e.g., policing, imprisonment, strikebreaking, other extra-economic compulsions). Chris Chen argues along similar lines in his essay, “The Limit-Point of Capitalist Equality,” albeit from a viewpoint already amenable to communization theory, turning the tables on the prevailing Marxist account of bürgerliche Gesellschaft: “From the point of view of the classical workers’ movement, racism is an unfortunate impediment to… integration into a larger laboring class… Yet it is precisely this racialization of the unwaged, unfree, and excluded that constitutes civil society as the space where recognition is bestowed via formal wage contracts and abstract citizenship rights for its members.”
Search for a subject
A corollary of this, simply put, is that “the racialized [les racisé-es] then become fully-fledged and exclusive revolutionary subjects, as workers were back during the old days.” Some reminiscences from January 2016 are revealing. Patlotch’s goals and objectives had in the meantime shifted somewhat. Many of the suspicions, hunches, and even certainties that inspired his original plans for a synthesis had evaporated. He explains: “I’d been engaged with the topic of revolutionary subjectivation [subjectivation révolutionnaire], since this seemed to me an important aspect of the process of building a revolutionary subject; or in other words, a class of communization [classe de la communisation].” Referring to Walter Mignolo’s idea of “pluriversality,” Patlotch elsewhere contends that “the Western proletariat in the old sense as a worker — on which the universal proletarian program rested — came to an end in the sixties, as the theory of communization maintained between 1975 and 2010. It is no longer definitively at the heart of any process of revolutionary subjectivation of a class. There is no single path [chemin] to follow toward ‘human community’ anymore, but rather pluriversal paths [voies] toward communism without unity of content, by which one can overthrow the mode of production and the economic, political, cultural, ideological, and psychological reproduction of capital that is so destructive of life on this earth and beyond… toward a living community.” George Ciccariello-Maher, the decolonial theorist and Bolivarian specialist, provides Patlotch with ample food for thought in a passage the latter excerpts:
Class-centrism is itself Eurocentric and reflects a colonial blindspot. This is not to say that class is not important. Quite the opposite. Whereas most Marxists and anarchists universalize a particular model Marx observed in the origins of capitalism in England, however, class structure in the colonized and formerly colonized world has always been very different.
Building a revolutionary politics around questions of race is a central — if not the central aspect of global colonial-capitalism.
Patlotch appeals to Ciccariello-Maher’s critique of the Eurocentrism implicit in “class-centric” analyses in order to bolster his challenge to the conventional Marxist wisdom that the proletariat constitutes the sole universal class, pushing his own pluriversal panacaea. He also borrows from Kevin B. Anderson’s Marx at the Margins (2010) in its focus on the “multilinear themes” [«thèmes multilinéaires»] already present in Marx’s mature theory, in contrast to the narrow unilinear schema of the earlier works. Abandoning the conceit that the industrial working class alone is capable of truly revolutionizing society, Patlotch looks instead to the unanswered question of race, reciting some lines from P. Valentine’s 2012 essay on “The Gender Rift in Communization” for Mute:
The “race question” has yet to be put on the table for communization theory. Theorists who analyze race and racialization as a fundamental social relation that grounds and reproduces capitalist society (from Cedric Robinson’s epic Black Marxisms to the recent “Afro-pessimists” like Frank Wilderson and Jared Sexton) have not been addressed within communization… This is a testament to the persistent Eurocentrism of current communization theory — even as it’s drawn into the American context.
Race now even begins to suffuse the category of class, inheriting many of its problematics. “By virtue of its suppression of the ‘race’ question, and through its constant assertion of abstract proletarian universalism,” Patlotch asseverates, “the Eurocentric character of Marxist and revolutionary theoretical assumptions has arrived at a radical ‘imposture’ here on the issue of class… Class can no longer be posed apart from [indépendamment] the race question, as the sublation [dépassements] and production of ‘racial’ identities and the term ‘proletarian’.” Suggested by all this is the notion that the working-class has itself become racialized, or its composition more diverse, as the old centers of production move away from Europe. “You can’t do away with decolonial moves yet to be taken between theory, strategy, action — between intellectualism [intellectualité] and the ‘revolutionary subject’ as self-grounding subject [s’auto-subjective] — in the face of class adversity aggravated by ‘racial’ origins, ethnic or religious, which results in dynamic consequences that can’t be predicted. However, you can hope to reverse abstract universality into a concrete ‘pluriversal’…” Non-European subjects are needed to advance “an alternate narrative of decolonization,” as Maia Ramnath proposes in Decolonizing Anarchism.
1492 assumes an increasingly prominent role within this narrative. Patlotch takes up a line of criticism Norman Ajari deployed against Malika Amaouche, Yasmine Kateb, and Léa Nicolas-Teboul, whose materialist critique of Houria Bouteldja he rebutted. Essentially the argument is that the rise of capitalism was itself predicated on the spread of European colonialism from 1492 on down: with primitive accumulation based as it was on the flow of precious metals from the New World to the Old, on conquest of native territories, and on racialized chattel slavery via the transatlantic trade. Whether this massive buildup of value was by itself a sufficient condition for the development of capitalism, or one of several necessary conditions, is a matter of much debate within Marxist historiography. I happen to think that a contingent and unique set of circumstances existed, mostly in England, which led to a dynamic standoff between feudal lords and deracinated peasants in the preindustrial countryside. A second issue, loosely related to the first, is whether capitalism still requires a non-capitalist “outside” from which it must continuously and forcibly extract fresh value once it’s already been established. Rosa Luxemburg is probably the single figure most responsible for first formulating and then promulgating this interpretation, though others followed in her wake. David Harvey is among its latter-day adherents, especially with his concept of ongoing “accumulation by dispossession” from the book The New Imperialism, which Patlotch examines at length. Notwithstanding the controversy that attends some finer points of detail or overall historic arc, the implications of these interpretive moves are myriad.
First, the contention that the origins of capitalism could be traced entirely to acts of foundational violence in Africa and the Americas implies that there’s a basic “dependency” of the developed core on the underdeveloped periphery of the “modern world-system.” Most of the theoreticians behind this influential analysis came out of the Monthly Review school of Marxist economics (Andre Gunder Frank, Immanuel Wallerstein) or else some branch of the Maoist tradition (Samir Amin). Patlotch does not deal with these authors directly, but rather as they are vectored through the writings of decolonial critics — Frank by way of Mohammed Taleb, Wallerstein by way of Ramón Grosfoguel, and Amin by way of Abdellatif Zeroual. (He has commented here and there on Amin’s theories, but only cursorily). Consequently, Patlotch is able to reverse the causality assumed by mainstream Marxist accounts of racialization as a process borne of capitalism’s global spread. Ajari fends off the claim of Amaouche, Kateb, and Nicolas-Teboul that “the dynamics of racism exist only in conjunction with the development of global capitalism” by doing precisely this. “It is not absurd from a decolonial perspective,” he writes, “to formulate the exact opposite hypothesis: it is capitalism which is born of racism.” Second, the contention that accumulation by dispossession has persisted beyond the initial phase of capital’s reproduction, indeed that primitive accumulation has never ended, implies that there must be some source of surplus other than that acquired through ordinary mechanisms of exploitation/wage-labor. “Based on this hypothesis,” Ajari continues, “since the ‘discovery’ of America in 1492 and its ensuing conquest, was born a project of European civilization (in which the moral, intellectual, and physical superiority of whites would be an integral part)… Europe was born at that time, and has not ceased to reap the benefits.”
Communization and the question of race
Lately, Patlotch seems to have lost what little patience he had left for the communisateurs. “Just so we’re clear,” he interpolates in a note dated February 16, 2016, “no syncretism is possible between communization theory and decolonial thought, as their approaches globally contradict one another [globalement contradictoires] from an epistemological point of view.” Since around January 2016, he’s given up on the plan to “interrogate communization theory from a decolonial point of view [interroger la théorie de la communisation du point de vue décolonial].” As of that time, Patlotch proclaims, it has become possible to “think together the Eurocentric theories of communization… parallel to the rest of proletarian programmatism as the dying flames [les derniers feux] of Marxist universalism (or a truly orthodox, post-Marxist universalism)… These theories can’t find the revolutionary subject anywhere, because it either doesn’t exist or doesn’t exist in the places they’re looking.” What changed Patlotch’s mind? Is there anything in communization theory worth salvaging, in his opinion? Certainly, this reckoning had been in the works for quite some time, but what was the final straw? How are we to make sense of the charge that TC is not simply oblivious to questions of race, but in fact drifts towards racism in cultivatating “a white, male, average theoretical field”?
Understanding.the.long-term reasons behind the break is a difficult enough task on its own, let alone the approximate cause. In order to grasp Patlotch’s motivations, it helps to familiarize oneself with some of the recurring motifs in his rants. One of his main themes is what he calls “the double crisis of capital and the West” [double crise du capital et de l’Occident], by which he means both the shift from formal to real subsumption and the shift away from European and North American geopolitical hegemony. The first (more or less the thesis of TC) can be understood as a temporal restructuring of Capital, while the second (more or less the thesis of the PIR) can be understood as the spatial recentering of the State. Both started sometime during the seventies, both relatively coextensive in their spread. For Patlotch, the realignment of social struggles since the sixties and seventies owes, in the first instance, to the emergence of a “decoloniality of power.” Programmatism’s obsolescence, the eclipse of the proletariat as the viable revolutionary subject-object of history, is not solely due to changes in the temporal mediation of wage labor by capital, as TC claimed in “The Present Moment,” but also due to changes in the antagonistic structure of society as a whole, which entails a shift from struggles oriented around class to struggles oriented around race. Klassenkampf finally gives way to Rassenkampf… Again he quotes Ciccariello-Maher, to the effect that “race emerged to disqualify certain peoples from humanity to legitimize dispossession of their land and extraction of their labor. To truly understand capitalism, we need to understand that it has always been a global, colonial, and racial system.” Race is thus an “essential starting point” for any movement that would aim at the overthrow of capitalism.
Karen and Barbara Fields have cogently argued that racism is both logically and historically prior to race. “Race is not a physical fact,” Barbara explains in a 2014 interview, “but a product of racism.” In other words, there is no biological basis for determining someone’s race; its basis is rather sociological. Marx was driving at this same point when in 1847 he rhetorically asked: “What is a Negro slave? A man of the black race… Only under certain social conditions does he become a slave.” TC captured this neatly in their 2012 reply to a series of questions on gender, paraphrasing Marx in a pithy little bon mot quipping that “the uterus does not make the woman, any more than the [amount of] melanin makes the slave.” (Estrogen is doubtless a better analogue to melanin, since this is a quantitative measure and not a separate organic quality). An addendum to the questionnaire clarified that the example was intended to show that anatomical differences are not enough to account for differences in social status. “Utérus versus mélanine” acknowledges that there is a more obvious biological rationale for the historic role assigned to women as socially constructed — childbearing capacity, along with the subsequent sexual division of labor — than with the relegation of “the darker races” to uncompensated labor. Distinctions of race, at least in the modern sense, are more arbitrary and more recent than distinctions of gender. Slavery in the ancient Mediterranean, for instance, was not based on “race” (let alone superficialities like skin pigment or complexion). Patlotch nevertheless is dissatisfied, both with this text by Lyon and a similar one by Kosmoprolet, “De l’antiracisme,” from 2015: “Lyon does not pose the question of the sublation [dépassement] and production of racial segmentations in the proletariat through struggles. He doesn’t have at his disposal a conceptualization that could answer such a question, no theory of racial identities in the fragmentation of the proletariat.”
Denial of the racial dimension of capitalism is, for Patlotch, closely bound up with denial of its colonial dimension. More specifically, it bespeaks a deeper disavowal of the hemispheric origins of modern colonialism in Europe, that metaphysical entity we call “the West.” Communization theory is in Patlotch’s view especially guilty of this. He thus complains that “the concept of the West does not exist for communization theory… A permanent denial [un déni permanent] since 1975!” Roland Simon’s post-Charlie Hebdo musings on “The Citizen, the Other, and the State” (also titled “‘To Be or Not to Be’ is Not the Question”) evidently rattled dear Patlotch; the bit about how “[t]he West can legitimately seize the monopoly on universal values, if needs be with F-16s and Dassault Rafales” troubled him in particular. “False!” he exclaims. “Universal Western values were progressively produced from 1492 (slavery as the ‘capitalist mode of production’! poor Marx… if Simon is now such an expert) down through their philosophical formalization by the Enlightenment and the politics of the French Revolution, all this before capitalism was fully-formed as a mode of production.” Every other contradiction is suppressed, Patlotch suspects, so as not to disturb TC’s notion of capitalism as an overarching and all-encompassing unity, in which all difference is subsumed beneath equivalent commensurability. “Simon knows this story well,” alleges Patlotch, “but he has to tell it in reverse to preserve his hypothesis that the restructuration of capitalism is almost complete, and forms a comprehensive whole overwhelming all other contradictions, including the one here: i.e., of ‘race,’ or to be more precise, by denying that the colonialities of Western capitalism are still dominant.”
With regard to the “denial” imputed to Simon, moreover, Patlotch then launches into a bizarre divagation/insinuation about how “one denial might hide another,” an oblique reference to the scandalous ultraleft tract “Auschwitz: Or, the Great Alibi.” Often, this article is mistakenly attributed to Bordiga, when in fact it had been written by Martin Axelrad, a French Bordigist militant of Jewish extraction, whose parents died at Treblinka. Citing an arcane dispute between Simon and Dauvé over the latter’s decision to republish this text, Patlotch denounces the former as a hypocrite for objecting to its republication. For on what grounds could Simon possibly object, if he himself is guilty here of a kind of “negationism” in his failure to acknowledge the Western character of capitalism? His “Eurocentric blindness” [aveuglement eurocentrique] prevents him from being able to adequately relate race to class, which remains an aporia. “TC is stuck — at a strictly political level — along with the rest of the (post-)ultraleft, because they’re so virulently against anything that’s ‘anti-imperialist,’ anti-colonial, postcolonial, or decolonial…” Against Lyon, another longtime member of TC and author of “We are Not Anti-’,” he openly identifies himself with this prefix, writing “Patlotch is ‘Anti-’”: “I’m not ashamed to call myself an anti-racist, anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist, anti-Zionist, etc., etc.” Elsewhere, yet again contra Lyon: “Communism is a movement, a fight in the present, under actual conditions… which always presupposes being concretely ‘anti-’ [concrètement «anti»].” Similarly, Patlotch takes exception to Lyon’s “predictably provocative” sendup of activism in his introductory remarks to the classic 1970s essay “Militancy: The Highest Stage of Alienation,” reposted by Sic.
Islam and religion
Patlotch’s polemic against communization — and by extension, the ultraleft tout court — isn’t limited to its tonedeaf “colorblindness” and lack of interest in the lingering legacy of colonialism, but also its dismissive attitude toward religion. Like Ciccariello-Maher, who writes that “secularism has become a powerful dogma” and warns of “a dogmatic secularism of occasionally religious proportions,” he sees the anticlerical component of past communist movements as a Eurocentric residue. “Modernity is the opium of the people,” says Bouteldja, and Patlotch repeats after her. “Secularism is the opium of the extreme Left [«la laïcité est l’opium de l’extrême-gauche»],” he adds, somewhat more originally. At any rate, Patlotch is aware that “French proletarians are massively atheistic, who oppose any revolution in the name of God, not engaging in struggles animated by religious morality. The question doesn’t even arise. However, it could arise for Muslims, or those considered to be such, that their Islamic faith at least wouldn’t object to them entering a revolution. One of the lessons of the Arab Spring [Révolutions arabes] is just this, no offense to Bernard Lyon, who at that time considered the ‘Islamic moment’ historically surpassed. Bernard’s always good for a laugh, that ‘clairvoyant’ [préviseur] of Theorie Communiste.” Yet again, the controversy around Islamophobia discussed in a couple recent posts here is central.
It should immediately be said that Patlotch is far more ambivalent about this concept than Ciccariello-Maher or certainly Bouteldja, in fact is scathing when it comes to “the Arab-Muslim slave trade” [la traite négrière arabo-musulmane] in Africa, considering the notion either too vague or not really relevant [ce concept d’islamophobie n’est pas pertinent]. Worse, Patlotch thinks the term carries with it an illicit “essentialization” (i.e., indiscriminately assigning the label “Muslim” to Arabs, Easterners [Orientaux], Africans, Indonesians), as others have said. For Patlotch, Islam is “an ideal enemy” [«un ennemi idéal»] in both senses of the word “ideal”: it’s at once the perfect antagonist for secular nationalist republicans as well as the ideological superstructure of a determinate material infrastructure, or a phantasmic foe. Ciccariello-Maher, by contrast, goes so far as to situate it at the center of the longue durée of historical racism, saying that “it is no coincidence that this racial disqualification was based on the blueprint of an earlier religious disqualification aimed above all at Islam… Europe was effectively built on Islamophobia… from the twelfth century on.” Ramón Grosfoguel, an inspiration for both Patlotch and Ciccariello-Maher, even declares that “[i]n social science we see concrete manifestations of epistemic Islamophobia in the classical Eurocentric patriarchal social theory of Karl Marx.” For his part, Patlotch confines his criticisms to the communisateurs and a few others rather than Marx. Here Coleman, Guillon, Homs, and Wajnsztejn reenter the picture.
Guillon’s satiric salvo on Islamophobia, mentioned at the outset, is likely what set Patlotch off in the first place. “About the article,” he innocently informs readers on Indymedia Bruxsel. “Claude Guillon is not a racist. In fact, he even loves Arabs! Or at least that’s what he says, anyway — this typically French little colonizer [petit-colon franchouillard], this self-castrated professor of suicide.” Patlotch is again astounded by the pointlessness of the dispute. “Why bother arguing endlessly about the ‘concept’ of ‘Islamophobia’?” he asks. He mocks Guillon for mindlessly repeating anarchist slogans over a century old, but then makes a somewhat more serious point about how there’s no need to worry. Because “it’s not the Guillons of the world who are made victims of racial profiling [racisme au faciès], or chased under the pretext of protection from ‘Islamic terrorism’,” after all. “The text remains at this superficial, personal level… and all of this with the ambiguous ‘concept’ [le «concept» ambiguë] of Islamophobia.” Some of the jibes by Patlotch are a bit vicious, but others hit their mark. Unfortunately, however accurate these may be, any effect they might have is soon nullified by an inexplicable outburst. “Naturally,” writes Patlotch, “Guillon relayed this article to his Zionist neocon master, Yves Coleman, just like a good little ultraleft doggie [chien-chien d’ultra-gauche]. Coleman and Guillon are busybodies [mouches du coche, literally gadflies or nuisances] of the ruling Western capitalist ideology in general, and the French ideology in particular…” Everything else is generally forgotten after this embarrassing display.
Following this mini-tirade against Guillon, Patlotch takes aim at his onetime mentor, Mattis, who also at one time had passed through the crosshairs of Guillon’s critique. Noting the “strange complicity” between Mattis and Guillon, who not three years ago were at each other’s throats, Patlotch cuttingly remarks that the two men now are united by what he calls “the French ideology” (less of a serious intellectual theme than a running joke)… Together, they comprise the “[u]niversal white anarchist wing of Western capitalism” [l’aile anarchiste blanche universelle du capitalisme occidental]. Patlotch likens Mattis, along with Coleman and Guillon, to the conservative philosopher Francis Cousin, who’s an associate of Alain de Benoist. “Mattis resorts to all the pseudo-critical commonplaces that exist in this so-called ‘debate’,” comments Patlotch, “beginning with the amalgam of ‘political Islam’ and ‘anti-imperialist creed,’ before he gives us his warped interpretation of Marx. It is symptomattis [dull wordplay] that the anarchist milieu presumes to give any lessons about ‘the relation between proletarians and the ruling class,’ as if the war it’s waging against ‘anti-Islamophobia’ were distinguished by a serious critique of the political economy of Capital… As if this were the real heart of the matter [cœur du sujet] in dynamics of crisis in the capitalist West. Decolonial movements are not focused on Islam and religion — this French ideological obsession that has taken hold of all political currents, from extreme right to ultraleft.” Communizers are all implicitly or explicitly eschatological, Patlotch says: the message of Dauvé and the other grandpas [message de Dauvé ou d’autres pépé] is to just sit around patiently and wait for the end (“immanentize the eschaton” and so forth).
On the Jewish question
Unlike Mattis, Simon, and Lyon, Wajnsztejn is no communisateur. Like Homs, Coleman, and Guillon, Wajnsztejn is an ultragauchiste soixante-huitard, as Patlotch puts it. In a fascinating lecture series on “Islamism, Fascism, Clash [choc] of Civilizations, Religions, and etc.,” Wajnsztejn scrutinizes some of the well-known responses to the deadly Paris attacks in November 2015: “Our Wound is Not So Recent: On the Paris Atrocities” by the Maoist metaphysician Alain Badiou, “The Islamization of Radicalism” by the scholar of political Islam Olivier Roy, and finally La guerre des civilisations n’aura pas lieu: Coexistence et violence au XXIe siècle by Raphaël Liogier. He emphatically rejects Badiou’s contention that radical Islam is just a “new fascism” [l’islamisme radical n’est pas un nouveau fascisme], also rubbishing the hysterical liberalism of Roy’s claim that foreign fighters in Daesh are today’s brigadists [«brigadistes», communist volunteers in Spain] (the only difference being the color of the flag [seule.la.couleur.du.drapeau.changerait.passant.du.rouge au vert]). Furthermore, Wajnsztejn disputes Liogier’s postulate that religious ideology is wholly reducible to social causes or that jihadism is the mere reflex of Western imperialism. But Patlotch is not impressed, scolding Wajnsztejn for even pointing out antisemitism sometimes masquerades as anti-Zionism: “No attempt at argument here, only calumny; it’s all simple for those who feel pressed to establish this equation, anti-Zionism = antisemitism… They don’t feel so pressed to consider the damages [dégâts] of racism in the world when it’s not.their.own.identity.community [propre communauté identitaire], in.this.case.Jewish.and.white.[juive.et.blanche]..Jacques Wajnsztejn does it here. Elsewhere it’s Clément Homs of Wertkritik.” At other times, it’s the association of Wajnsztejn with Coleman that counts, albeit against him. “Yves Coleman and Jacques Wajnsztejn, those ineffable duelists, the Thomson and Thompson of ultraleft Zionism [Dupont et Dupond du sionisme ultragauchiste] — loyal auxiliaries [supplétifs] of the French ideology, they are always ready to keep imperialist crimes quiet and make excuses for the anti-Muslim line of French leaders — the colonial legacy doesn’t exist.”
Here we arrive at one of the less savory aspects of the Patlotchian Weltanschauung, all too common among those who see everything in terms of race. Patlotch particularly resents the rather desultory designation of racial politics as “identitarian” and “communitarian.” For Patlotch, some particularism is required to counterbalance and combat the haughty universalism of Eurocentric discourse, as well as to elevate the peoples and cultures this discourse has trampled underfoot. The focus on “identity” is supposedly warranted by how central this has become in the constitution of political subjectivity. When Coleman and others enumerate the manifold ways that this perversely mirrors right-wing rhetoric, as I’ve been known to do at times, it’s seen as providing ideological cover for the preponderant universalist pretenses of the West. Are Wajnsztejn, Homs, Guillon, etc. the unwitting dupes of “state philosemitism,” as Bouteldja has argued? Do they not see how the opportunistic embrace of the Jew by Western powers furthers the latter’s imperial ends, with Israel as their proxy in the Middle East? Now here’s the killer question [la question qui tue], according Patlotch:
Why are these principal theorists — among the radical humanists, workerists, and communizers — all Jews? Jews who, moreover, refuse to consider “race” as historically structural to capitalism? Jacques Wajnsztejn of Temps Critiques. Clément Homs of Critique radicale de la valeur [Wertkritik]. Bernard Lyon, born Dreyfus, and Roland Simon of Theorie Communiste. Lyon: “Race does not render gender secondary.” Simon: “Black is black, and white is white; there is no relation to the structure of capital.” Yves Coleman of Ni Patrie ni frontières, 2015: “Ms. Houria Bouteldja of the PIR passes her entrance exam to the French extreme right.”
A major problem for all these people is the immigration of people who aren’t white Europeans, in the name of humanist, proletarian, Zionist universalisms before the state of Israel, vanguard of Western democracy… Those who denounce “left identitarians” (Germinal Pinalie, in the name of Marx) or the “communitarianism” that haunts the racialized proles in the banlieues (“radicalization,” “Islamist”) all use the same arguments or the same silences as Identitaires de Lorraine or others, Fdesouche, Riposte laïque and its feminists, who come close to the jingoistic anarchist Claude Guillon, anarchists infiltrated by ultra-Zionist neocons like Yves Coleman (whose “anti-confusionism” assimilates anti-Zionism to antisemitism… from the Left), etc. etc.
Pourquoi sont-ce principalement des théoriciens radicaux humanistes, prolétaristes et communisateurs juifs, qui refusent de considérer la «race» comme structurelle historiquement au capitalisme ? Jacques Wajnsztejn de Temps Critiques, Clément Homs de la Critique radicale de la valeur (Wertkritik), Bernard Lyon né Dreyfus : «la race ne doit pas secondariser le genre», et Roland Simon de Théorie Communiste : «un Noir est noir, un Blanc blanc, aucun rapport avec la structure du capital…» pendants de Yves Coleman, Ni Patrie ni frontières : 2015 «Mme Houria Bouteldja : les Indigènes de la République réussissent leur examen d’entrée dans l’extrême droite gauloise».
Ceux qui dénoncent les «identitaires de gauche» (Germinal Pinalie, au nom de Marx…), le «communautarisme» qui hante les prolos racialisées dans les banlieues de «radicalisation» … «islamiste» … ont les mêmes arguments ou les mêmes silences que les Identitaires de Lorraine ou d’ailleurs, Fdesouche, Riposte laïque et ses féministes dont se rapproche l’anarchiste cocardier Claude Guillon, anarchistes infiltrés par les néo-cons ultra-sionistes (dont Yves Coleman est une tête de pont «anti-confusionnisme» assimilant antisionisme et antisémitisme… de gauche), etc. etc.
Unfortunately, passages like this are not rare in Patlotch’s online oeuvre. “You cannot get more communitarian Jewish than Jacques Wajnsztejn without theoretically dying [plus communautariste juif que Jacques Wajnsztejn, tu meurs théoriquement]… Frankly, why should we give a fuck about the mental states of a petty booj who gives lessons in human revolution without knowing the first thing? Gazing at the navel of the universal Jewish ultraleft [regardant son nombril juif universel ultragauche], you can’t get more colorless… All this… just to provide an ultraleft version of the Zionist ideology put forth by Manuel Valls, Alain Finkielkraut, and Clément Homs of Wertkritik.” Patlotch counterintuitively suggests that this abstract, Jewish universalism is in fact the secret behind the Jews’ particular communitarian identity. By no means is it limited to figures such as Coleman, Wajnsztejn, and Homs, moreover. “With the others,” he explains, “including Roland Simon, it’s the same communitarian identity… but more discreet. In the name of the colorless universal proletariat [prolétariat universel incolore], Simon accuses the PIR and Bouamama (those Arab bastards) of being ‘entrepreneurs of racialization’ promoting a ‘communitarianism of religious essence,’ which of course attends the conceptual unity of his proletariat, the structural phantasm for its own self-abolition… via communization […prolétariat, structurellement fantasmé, pour son auto-abolition… dans la communisation].”
Finding fault with Jews for their “abstract universalism” (i.e., their “rootless cosmopolitanism”) is of course nothing new. It’s in fact a time-honored antisemitic gibe, as Patlotch is doubtless aware. You know what those Jews are like. Rational, calculating, universalistic, cerebral. Can’t be counted on to appreciate the emotions stirred by God and country. Patlotch should have remembered those lines from Sartre, which Fanon so lovingly quoted in Black Skin, White Masks. “Like all good tacticians, I wanted to rationalize the world and show the white man he’s mistaken,” Fanon wrote. “Jean-Paul Sartre states the Jew possesses a sort of impassioned imperialism of reason: for he wishes not only to convince others he’s right; his goal is to persuade them that there is an absolute, unconditional value to rationalism. He thus feels himself to be a missionary of the universal against the universality of the Catholic religion, from which he is excluded; he asserts the ‘catholicity’ of the rational, an instrument by which to attain to the truth and establish a spiritual bond among men.” Disavowing the unabashed particularism of the Jewish religion, with its tribalistic category of “the Chosen People,” the lesser-known Frankfurt School theorist Leo Löwenthal wrote in a 1926 essay on “Ferdinand Lassalle and Karl Marx”: “Marx, more than any other figure and to a very profound extent, succeeded in filtering and refining the whole genetic and psychological legacy of his Jewishness into a universalistic, theoretical worldview…” None of this is to suggest that the Jews are preternaturally predisposed to universality or rationality; indeed, the ideological ascendance of Zionism among Jews the world over, since 1946, proves they are every bit as susceptible to particularistic attachments as others. It is only by aspiring to the universal that individuals can participate in human history, insofar as it exists, and this option is available to everyone irrespective of race, gender, or nationality (humanity might even only exist to the extent these categories disappear). A great deal of Marx’s greatness can be summed up by the motto he took from Terence: homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto [I am human; nothing human is alien to me].
Returning to Patlotch: We must pause a moment to unequivocally condemn his execrable behavior toward Coleman, an author who I greatly respect. In an outrageous comment titled “Yves Coleman, ultraleftist agent of the capitalist West” [agent ultragauchiste de l’Occident capitaliste], Patlotch refers to him not only as a “Zionist neocon undercover cop” [flic néo-cons sioniste infiltré], but also as “the ‘colorblind’ halfbreed, the typically French sub-ideologue Yves Coleman” [le demi-négro colorblind, sous-idéologue franchouillard Yves Coleman]. Translating demi-négro as “halfbreed” is perhaps a bit generous, too. Honestly, I wasn’t even aware that Coleman is black, not that it matters. (Although Patlotch uploaded a picture of him). Vivek Chibber’s universalist polemic against postcolonialism and subaltern studies is what so enraged Patlotch… to the point where he used this racist epithet. Coleman had invoked Chibber in an article. Patlotch continues:
Even though I’m white, I’m a thousand times more black than Yves Coleman, a traitor to his race — if not his class, as he was never a proletarian. Neither were Guigou and Wajnsztejn, nor Claude Guillon, nor those with whom they love to exchange silk panties, like Anselm Jappe and Clément Homs of Wertkritik. All of them are on the side of obsessive antisemitism, all on the side of the ideology that’s dominated since 1948, which changed the wandering Jew into the citizen of a racist, colonial nation-state, for the sake of Western capitalism. They criticize it everywhere, preferring to see antisemitism (Wajnsztejn) in the criticism of Jewish bankers who supported Hitler, who armed the South African apartheid regime to the end, precisely against Mandela. Yves Coleman is a useful idiot, an ultraleftist agent of Western capitalism, a pseudo-anarchist anti-communist, simply put.
Même blanc, je suis mille fois plus nègre qu’Yves Coleman, traître à sa race, pas à sa classe, car prolétaire, lui ne le fut jamais, ni ses potes Guigou et Wajnsztejn, ni Claude Guillon, ni ceux avec qui ils aiment échanger, en culotte de soie, entre soi, Anselm Jappe et Clément Homs de la Wertkritik, tous du côté de l’antisémitisme obsessionnel, tous du côté de l’idéologie dominante depuis 1948, qui a changé le juif errant en juif citoyen d’un Etat-Nation raciste, colonial, pour les beaux yeux du capitalisme occidental : celui qu’ils ne critiquent nulle part, préférant voir l’antisémitisme dans la critique des banquiers juifs (Wajnsztejn), les mêmes qui ont soutenu Hitler, les mêmes qui ont armé le régime sud-africain de l’apartheid jusqu’au bout, contre Mandela précisément. Yves Coleman idiot utile, agent ultra-gauchiste du capitalisme occidental, pseudo-anar, anti-communiste, tout simplement.
Later, after Coleman correctly called Patlotch out for insulting both him and Germinal Pinalie as demi-négros. Responding, Patlotch sheepishly falls back on the idea that he’s following Frantz Fanon’s pathological study of “the mestizo” [métis] — or the prototypical self-loathing black (I have my doubts about this). Doesn’t Patlotch know this whole language of “self-loathing” goes back to Theodor Lessing’s 1930 classic on Der jüdische Selbsthaß, the entire point of which was to shame Jews who weren’t “nationally conscious” into becoming Zionists? Simply disgusting.
If I might be permitted to revise or rework Patlotch’s thesis of “the double crisis of capital and the West,” at least somewhat, I’d begin with the unfortunate phrase “crisis of capital.” Capitalism is crisis, permanent and profound, so “crisis of capital” is rather redundant. More accurate, I would contend, especially when it comes to the main restructuration.argument advanced by TC, is the prospect of a “crisis of the proletariat” in which the programmatic aims of the working class have finally run their course. As for the “crisis of the West,” Patlotch is a bit late to the game. Spengler already in 1919 was prophesying The Decline of the West, the plantlike decay of a whole hemisphere as the Faustian spirit exhausted itself in its vain pursuit of the infinite. Europe was thereby provincialized, its great peoples reduced to fellaheen. Yet the very thing which heralded its rise for Patlotch and Bouteldja, was for Spengler what heralded its fall: capital or, that is, civilization. “Vital culture suddenly hardens, it mortifies, its blood congeals, its force breaks down — it becomes civilization. Rising gigantic in the imperial age, Classical civilization clung to a false semblance of youth and strength and fullness as it robbed budding Arabian culture and the East of light and air. What will occupy the first centuries of the coming millennium is signaled already and sensible in and around us today. Namely, the decline of the West.” For this reason, then, Adorno reexamined Spengler’s diagnosis of the age, not because he decried civilization (Bouteldja does this as well), but because “[w]hat can oppose the decline of the West is not a resurrected culture, but rather the utopia silently contained in the image of its decline.”