L’affaire Ciccariello-Maher: “White genocide” and beyond

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George Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er’s “off-col­or” joke about gen­o­cide over the hol­i­days has eli­cited a range of re­ac­tions on so­cial me­dia. In the week or so that’s elapsed since he sent out those con­tro­ver­sial tweets, sev­er­al cycles of pub­lic opin­ion have already run their course. Fol­low­ing the ini­tial op­pro­bri­um, Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er was even re­buked by his em­ploy­ers at Drexel Uni­versity. This in turn led his sup­port­ers to gath­er sig­na­tures, ur­ging the ad­min­is­tra­tion not to rep­rim­and him fur­ther. Some be­grudgingly offered their solid­ar­ity, more as a mat­ter of prin­ciple than out of ap­prov­al for what he said. While they did not en­dorse his mes­sage, they be­lieved that ex­tra­mur­al polit­ic­al speech should be pro­tec­ted. Oth­ers en­thu­si­ast­ic­ally leapt to de­fend the ori­gin­al “white gen­o­cide” re­mark, al­though Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er in­sists he it made in jest, “not only on grounds of aca­dem­ic free­dom and free speech, but even more strongly on the basis of its polit­ic­al con­tent.” A few re­fused to provide him with any back­ing what­so­ever, cit­ing his fail­ure to do like­wise after the Charlie Hebdo murders in Par­is two years earli­er. Luck­ily, Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er later re­vealed that he’d re­cently re­ceived ten­ure, so the whole af­fair proved rather a tem­pest in a tea­cup. His job was nev­er in ser­i­ous danger to be­gin with.

Nev­er­the­less, now that it’s over, it might be worth tak­ing a look at the vari­ous re­sponses to this im­broglio. Be­fore sur­vey­ing all these, however, I might as well lay my cards out on the ta­ble: I’m not a “free speech ab­so­lut­ist.” Un­der ex­traordin­ary con­di­tions — say, of re­volu­tion­ary civil war — some demo­crat­ic rights will likely have to be sus­pen­ded. Even un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances, there are lim­its re­lated to li­bel, slander, and in­cit­ing a pan­ic. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, though, people should be able to say or write whatever the fuck they want. Trot­sky had it more or less right in his tract on “Free­dom of Press and the Work­ing Class” (1938). “Once at the helm [of the state],” wrote Dav­idovich, “the pro­let­ari­at may find it­self forced, for a cer­tain time, to take spe­cial meas­ures against the bour­geois­ie, if the bour­geois­ie as­sumes an at­ti­tude of open re­bel­lion against the work­ers’ state. In that case, re­strict­ing free­dom of the press goes hand in hand with all the oth­er meas­ures em­ployed in wa­ging a civil war: if you are forced to use ar­til­lery and planes against the en­emy, you can­not per­mit this same en­emy to main­tain his own cen­ters of news and pro­pa­ganda with­in the armed camp of the pro­let­ari­at… Yet in this in­stance, too, if the spe­cial meas­ures are ex­ten­ded un­til they be­come an en­dur­ing pat­tern, they in them­selves carry the danger of get­ting out of hand and of the work­ers’ bur­eau­cracy gain­ing a polit­ic­al mono­poly that would be one of the sources of its de­gen­er­a­tion.”

Colin Beckett, Corey Robin, and Richard Seymour

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Verso Books published a con­cise sum­mary of the or­deal by Colin Beck­ett, which went over the timeline of events. Beck­ett con­cluded that “Drexel’s ini­tial re­sponse to com­plaints about Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er il­lus­trates that un­prin­cipled, PR-con­scious ad­min­is­trat­ors are eas­ily ma­nip­u­lated by the slight­est hint of con­tro­versy,” and im­plored his read­ers to “re­main vi­gil­ant and make it more dif­fi­cult for uni­versit­ies… to cater to right-wing out­rage, real or fake, than po­lice the speech of its em­ploy­ees.” Jac­obin re­pos­ted Corey Robin’s call to “De­fend George Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er” from his per­son­al blog, a reas­on­able enough piece, des­pite its praise for the as­so­ciate pro­fess­or’s “ex­cel­lent work on Venezuela and polit­ic­al the­ory.” With all due re­spect to Robin, Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er’s stuff on Venezuela is lazy tripe. It amounts to little more than re­hash­ing the crudest talk­ing points pre­pared by the Bolivari­an re­gime. He once gran­ted an in­ter­view to Amy Good­man of Demo­cracy Now! in which jus­ti­fy Ma­duro’s jail­ing of Leo­poldo López, the mod­er­ate op­pos­i­tion lead­er, back in 2015. López was sen­tenced to four­teen years for fo­ment­ing un­rest and al­legedly plot­ting to over­throw the gov­ern­ment. Guess what evid­ence was presen­ted as proof of his crime? Yup, that’s right: prob­lem­at­ic tweets.

Richard Sey­mour’s gloss on l’af­faire Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er ap­peared as one of sev­er­al theses on the theme of trolling, which he set forth in an entry on Len­ino­logy en­titled “We Are All Trolls.” The cent­ral claim of this post is that the in­ter­net merely made mani­fest — i.e., ac­cen­tu­ated or ex­acer­bated — aso­cial tend­en­cies that were lat­ent in our be­ha­vi­or long be­fore it de­b­uted in the mid-1990s. Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er’s re­cent gaffe is dis­cussed in the sev­enth thes­is, after mus­ing on the ex­hib­i­tion­ism of so­cial plat­forms and con­cerns over the pre­val­ence of “fake news.” Sey­mour con­tends that

you can be quite witty and con­cise in 140 char­ac­ters, but every trope po­ten­tially un­spools in­to thou­sands of threads of ar­gu­ment and hag­gling over in­ter­pret­a­tion. Drexel Uni­versity today is­sued a state­ment con­demning one of its em­ploy­ees, George Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er, for a tweet ask­ing for “white gen­o­cide” as a Christ­mas present. His tweet was, as every­one in their right minds noted, in­ten­ded iron­ic­ally. Of course, irony is of­ten in­voked, in­ap­pro­pri­ately, as a sort of ideo­lo­gic­al get-out-of-jail-free card. In al­most all cases of irony, there is a dis­tinc­tion between “use” and “men­tion.” I might “men­tion” a state­ment in or­der to iron­ize it, without “us­ing” it. But there is no men­tion­ing without some kind of psy­cho­lo­gic­al mean­ing, and such men­tion­ing can in­volve a du­bi­ous kind of en­joy­ment. Think of the pro­vocateur who, after mak­ing a ra­cist joke, says: “Oh but of course, I was be­ing totally iron­ic.” But this is simply to say that one should pay at­ten­tion to the con­text in which irony is in­voked.

The con­text in this case, is ac­tu­ally quite damning of Drexel. In the idiom of the alt-right — whom Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er was mock­ing with a cer­tain jaunty, fin­ger-in-the-eye swag­ger — “white gen­o­cide” is caused by im­mig­ra­tion. To be­lieve in “white gen­o­cide,” to feel even re­motely threatened by the pro­spect, to think it could be real, one has to be­lieve all sorts of oth­er im­plaus­ible things. To wit, one has to be­lieve that there is a co­her­ent bio­lo­gic­al and cul­tur­al en­tity that could cor­res­pond to the no­tion of “white race,” which is in­nately worth con­serving, and which would be com­prom­ised by the bio­lo­gic­al and cul­tur­al mix­ing that large amounts of non-white im­mig­ra­tion would pro­duce. And one would have to see that as be­ing tan­tamount to gen­o­cide, viz. an “at­tempt to des­troy in whole, or in part.” To be­lieve in this idea, in oth­er words, one has to be a neo-Nazi, or something close to it. To mock it, one need only be any­one else.

But not every­one is au fait with the lan­guage of the alt-right, and not every­one has enough his­tor­ic­al and polit­ic­al in­tu­ition to grasp that no one is likely to threaten gen­o­cide against white people, and that such a threat would have no teeth at all in the real world. For some people, it would take time to do a little googling, and think through the lo­gic of the thing. Drexel, re­act­ing the way it did, rushed to judg­ment without even a cour­tesy-google. It rushed out a state­ment dur­ing the Christ­mas hol­i­days rather than wait for the op­por­tun­ity to talk to Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er, or even just think. I as­sume this isn’t be­cause man­age­ment agree with the neo-Nazi view of “white gen­o­cide” which was be­ing mocked. Rather, they used it as an op­por­tun­ity to sig­nal to staff mem­bers that they should ad­opt more cor­por­ate, HR-friendly per­son­al­it­ies on so­cial me­dia — even if in prac­tice this means that, like oth­er lib­er­al in­sti­tu­tions (ACORN, etc.), they end up cav­ing to the far right. Whatever in­sti­tu­tion­al re­si­li­ency they might have in the face of far right pro­vocateurs was com­prom­ised for the sake of pub­lic re­la­tions ex­pedi­ency. And the more mar­ket­ized high­er edu­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions be­come, the more that know­ledge-pro­duc­tion and the work­ers in­volved in it will be sus­cept­ible to the whip of this kind of frantic witch-hunt­ing zeal.

Everything that oc­curs on Twit­ter, it goes without say­ing, ought to be treated a pri­ori as stu­pid. Not just the ill-con­sidered tweet that first sparks a wave of out­rage or protest, but the out­rage or protest that en­sues as well. Here Sey­mour is un­doubtedly cor­rect, just as he is also cor­rect to point out the ri­dicu­lous­ness of the alt-right’s concept of “white gen­o­cide.” Of course, he neg­lects to men­tion Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er’s fol­low-up tweet, in which he cla­ri­fied that what he meant by white gen­o­cide was that “when the whites were mas­sacred dur­ing the Haitian Re­volu­tion, that was a good thing in­deed.” State­ments such as this only lend cre­dence to white su­prem­acists’ para­noid and mis­be­got­ten world­view. As I poin­ted out a couple days ago, this is not just polit­ic­ally un­wise but his­tor­ic­ally in­ac­cur­ate. CLR James demon­strated in his mas­ter­piece The Black Jac­obins (1939) that “[t]he mas­sac­re of the whites was a tragedy not for the whites… but for the mu­lat­toes and the blacks.” It’s only fit­ting to men­tion this today, since yes­ter­day marked the an­niversary of Haiti’s sov­er­eign in­de­pend­ence as a na­tion.

Per­haps I’m off on this, but Sey­mour in this pas­sage seems to be pro­ject­ing. What he de­scribes as Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er’s “jaunty, fin­ger-in-the-eye swag­ger” is how he would prefer to be per­ceived whenev­er he lets fly one of his own pithy little bon mots against the alt-right. Like­wise the flat­ter­ing de­scrip­tion of Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er as a “work­er” in­volved in the field of “know­ledge-pro­duc­tion.” Doubt­less Sey­mour hopes to be coun­ted among the ranks of these “know­ledge-work­ers.” (“Know­ledge-pro­duc­tion” is a mean­ing­less Althus­seri­an cat­egory in­ten­ded to in­flate the im­port­ance of The The­ory In­dustry™ or the Pa­ris Stran­gler’s “the­or­et­ic­al prac­tice”: pro­duc­tion des connais­sances in French, and Er­kennt­nis­pro­duk­ti­on or Wis­sens­pro­duk­ti­on in Ger­man. Henri Le­fe­b­vre no­ticed back in the sev­en­ties that “the concept of pro­duc­tion has come to be used so loosely since the time of Marx and En­gels that it has lost prac­tic­ally all defin­i­tion. We speak of the pro­duc­tion of know­ledge, or ideo­lo­gies, or writ­ings and mean­ings, of im­ages, of dis­courses, of lan­guage, of signs and sym­bols.” Le­fe­b­vre dropped some ser­i­ous connais­sance on Althusser re­gard­ing this is­sue in a 1969 es­say ex­amin­ing «Les pa­ra­doxes d’Al­thus­ser». Either way, Al­fred Sohn-Reth­el’s in­vest­ig­a­tions in­to the di­vi­sion between men­tal and manu­al labor are far more worth­while when it comes to pars­ing ques­tions of epi­stem­o­logy and ab­strac­tion).

Maybe it’s just the op­pos­ite, though, and Sey­mour is plead­ing that in­tel­lec­tu­als not be dis­mis­sed on ac­count of stu­pid com­ments made in pri­vate or in pas­sing. Af­ter all, he him­self has been ta­ken to task in re­cent months for mo­cking the fa­cial de­form­ity of a con­ser­vat­ive Brit­ish war vet­er­an, Si­mon We­st­on. We­st­on suf­fe­red ex­tens­ive scar­ring in 1982, from burns he sus­tai­ned dur­ing the Falk­lands con­flict. “If Si­mon We­st­on knew any­thing, he’d still have his face,” wrote Sey­mour late in 2015. Since then, he’s apo­lo­gi­zed to We­st­on in a long-win­ded blog en­try — a great ma­ny words where one would have done. He’s ne­ver­the­less right that wri­ters should not be writ­ten off sim­ply for cra­cking a dumb joke, or even in­sul­ting so­me­bo­dy’s ap­pea­rance. Ra­ther, they ought to be jud­ged by the qua­li­ty of their ar­gu­ments and ideas. One on­ly wishes Sey­mour would ex­tend the same ge­ne­ro­si­ty to others, since (as Mark Fi­sher quip­ped a couple years ago) Sey­mour has long played the role of “ex­com­mu­ni­ca­tor-in-chief” on the Left. This is an un­for­tu­nate ha­bit pi­cked up from years of sec­ta­rian in­figh­ting, par­ti­cu­lar­ly cha­rac­te­ris­tic of Clif­fite Trots­kyists, who tend to ap­ply the mot­to of “no plat­form for fas­cists” even to lef­tists they deem ana­the­ma.

Amber Frost vs. Steven Salaita

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Getting back to Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er, though, we turn to another piece. Closest to my own view was Am­ber Frost’s amus­ing state­ment of sup­port in the on­line polit­ic­al magazine Cur­rent Af­fairs. You can read it over on their web­site in full, but its sub­stance is roughly as fol­lows:

It should be pretty ob­vi­ous that you don’t have to like someone to stick up for them when the fas­cists come… George is someone who I hap­pen to find very rude and con­des­cend­ing. He felt the need to “warn” me about my more “prob­lem­at­ic” friends, which I con­sider a sort of sex­ist pa­ter­nal­ism. I didn’t like his polit­ics, which I found shal­low and his­tri­on­ic, or his pass­ive ag­gres­sion, which I found cow­ardly. Also, as a highly judg­ment­al per­son who re­fuses to con­sort with any­one who is less than very cool or charm­ing, I de­cided that the white guy aca­dem­ic who wrote “Brech­tian Hip-Hop: Di­dactics and Self-Pro­duc­tion in Post-Gang­sta Polit­ic­al Mix­tapes” was a try­hard nerd. Per­haps most un­for­giv­ably, his jokes were un­funny. Not of­fens­ive in any way — just un­funny.

But none of this mat­ters, be­cause George is un­der at­tack… Solid­ar­ity is not de­pend­ent on amity or ad­mir­a­tion. It is the ac­know­ledg­ment of a shared struggle for dig­nity, lib­er­a­tion, and rights, ap­plied con­sist­ently to all of hu­man­kind. There is no such thing as con­di­tion­al solid­ar­ity, and while petty bull­shit is the spice of life, the work of left polit­ics re­quires some truly fla­vor­less battles. The people that any os­tens­ible left­ist is ob­lig­ated to stand up for will not al­ways be likable. Usu­ally they won’t even be left­ists… They will make at­ro­cious de­cisions in fa­cial hair, which you will sus­pect they styled in a pre­ten­tious ef­fort to look “more eth­nic.” They will act in bad faith… And so we at Cur­rent Af­fairs stand with George Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er without qual­i­fic­a­tion or re­ser­va­tion, be­cause we be­lieve he’d do the same for us. We’re with you, com­rade. Don’t let the bas­tards get you down.

Frost is wrong about Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er’s mus­tache, of course. It’s the com­bin­a­tion of faux-hawk and soul-patch that truly ought to give us pause. Re­gard­less, many Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er par­tis­ans did not ap­pre­ci­ate the tone of her art­icle. The prob­lem was that they didn’t share her con­tempt for the pro­fess­or she was ac­tu­ally de­fend­ing. Her point, though, was that we should de­fend the people we don’t like. And in that con­text it made sense for Frost to show an ex­ample of someone she doesn’t like. Some read­ers missed the point, and fired back at her with aim­less per­son­al at­tacks.

One of the longer, more de­tailed replies to Frost’s art­icle came from Steven Salaita, the irony of which will not be lost on any­one fa­mil­i­ar with his in­fam­ous tweet in June 2014: “Zion­ists: trans­form­ing ‘an­ti­semit­ism’ from something hor­rible in­to something hon­or­able since 1948.” Mon­do­weiss and vari­ous oth­er anti-Zion­ist out­lets in­sisted that Salaita’s mean­ing was be­ing willfully dis­tor­ted by crit­ics of the Boy­cott, Di­vest, and Sanc­tion (BDS) cam­paign against Is­rael, of which Salaita re­mains a prom­in­ent spokes­man. Ques­tion­able me­di­um aside — Twit­ter forces its users to write dis­crete dis­patches of 140 char­ac­ters or less, which prac­tic­ally begs to be taken out of con­text — and godaw­ful word­ing not­with­stand­ing, they may have had a point. (Per­son­ally, I found an­oth­er tweet Salaita wrote far more dis­taste­ful. This one came right after three Is­raeli teens were kid­napped by the paramilitary wing of Hamas: “You may be too re­fined to say it, but I’m not,” Salaita de­clared, “I wish all the fuck­ing West Bank set­tlers would go miss­ing.” Later, the miss­ing teens were found all with their throats cut. Even then, I don’t think this is sufficient cause for firing)

Be­cause it bears on my stance vis-à-vis Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er’s tweets, though, I feel it’s im­port­ant high­light that I spoke out against the Uni­versity of Illinois’ de­cision to fire/”de­hire” Salaita at the time. Once it be­came clear that the school had buckled un­der pres­sure from donors and alumni sym­path­et­ic to Is­rael, my re­sponse was this: “Just give the guy his job. Who cares what dum­bass opin­ions he voices in his spare time? So long as he’s com­pet­ent and doesn’t vi­ol­ate the uni­versity code of con­duct, he should be able to say whatever he wants. Don’t both­er try­ing to make ex­cuses for the dude’s state­ment, however; the men­tal ac­ro­bat­ics and mor­al equi­voc­a­tions in­volved are cringe-in­du­cing.” Giv­en his dim view of Frost’s art­icle on Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er, Salaita would prob­ably have also taken is­sue with the way I ex­pressed my op­pos­i­tion to his fir­ing/”de­hir­ing” back in 2014. (To every­one’s re­lief, he ended up su­ing the liv­ing shit out of UIoC, even­tu­ally awar­ded an $875,000 set­tle­ment. More power to him, frankly — any­thing less would’ve been un­amer­ic­an).

Salaita wrote the fol­low­ing re­sponse to Frost, in any case:

George can have a pro­voc­at­ive and can­tan­ker­ous on­line per­sona, which cer­tainly isn’t to every­body’s lik­ing. Based on the way he ar­gues, he in­ev­it­ably will ali­en­ate or of­fend some people. He’s aware of this. He un­der­stands how his style of en­gage­ment is con­tro­ver­sial… That’s the thing Frost’s art­icle misses: George is George. Hate him, ad­ore him, whatever… Frost’s piece [is] un­ne­ces­sar­ily hos­tile. Okay, she doesn’t like George. But her in­tent isn’t simply to state her dis­like of him. The in­tent is to hu­mi­li­ate him and to over­whelm him with her su­per­i­or wit and sense of irony, and then top it off by il­lus­trat­ing how noble she is for sup­port­ing him, any­way. People are read­ing it so neg­at­ively be­cause it’s re­mark­ably im­ma­ture.

I had the same prob­lem with Frost’s Left For­um piece that so many con­sidered hil­ari­ous. I thought it in­cred­ibly mean-spir­ited, and couldn’t read it without cringing. The fact is, so many of us come in­to the left be­cause when we were young­er we were out­casts — trouble­makers, un­cool, un­wanted, too al­tern­at­ive, whatever. Our en­tire lives we’ve seen people sup­posedly on our side shit all over us to make them­selves present­able to more power­ful demo­graph­ics. Those who are mar­gin­al ought to be treated with com­pas­sion rather than con­tempt. If you can’t tol­er­ate the snip­ing from a tiny crowd on the far left, then ex­er­cise the block fea­ture and do something more use­ful than be­littling those it takes ab­so­lutely no ima­gin­a­tion or eth­ics to blithely con­demn as “em­bar­rass­ing” or “crazy.” Her writ­ing some­times does little more than trans­form us from read­ers who de­sire ser­i­ous en­gage­ment in­to as­sholes and rif­fraff in some meta­phor­ic­al high school.

Even if you hate George and agree with Frost that he’s a jerk, I don’t see how any­body can read her art­icle and find any­thing of value in it ana­lyt­ic­ally and polit­ic­ally. Its cent­ral con­ceit — that free speech means tak­ing up for people you de­test — is not only banal, but act­ively elides ana­lys­is of dis­course and power.

Here I’ve been think­ing all these years that the Fou­cauldean fo­cus on “dis­course” and “power” act­ively elides an ana­lys­is of ideo­logy and cap­it­al. Marx­ists are of course aware that “between equal rights, force de­cides” (as the say­ing goes in the chapter on the work­ing day). Yet this hardly neg­ates the im­port­ance of the form­al rights that ob­tain in bour­geois so­ci­ety. “The pro­let­ari­at’s polit­ic­al vo­ca­tion,” wrote En­gels, “is to en­cour­age the bour­geois­ie in its struggle against the rel­ics of the old so­ci­ety, es­pe­cially against its own weak­ness and cow­ar­dice, and to help win those rights — free­dom of the press, free­dom of as­so­ci­ation and as­sembly, uni­ver­sal suf­frage, self-gov­ern­ment — without which, des­pite their bour­geois char­ac­ter, the work­ers can nev­er win their eman­cip­a­tion.” Dutch com­mun­ist Ant­on Pan­nekoek re­it­er­ated the ne­ces­sity of these freedoms in his 1947 pamph­let on the work­ers’ coun­cils: “In or­der to main­tain them­selves as a work­ing class, [pro­let­ari­ans] need not only the per­son­al liberty and leg­al equal­ity pro­claimed by middle class laws: Spe­cial rights and liber­ties, too, are ne­ces­sary to se­cure these pos­sib­il­it­ies; the right of as­so­ci­ation, the right of meet­ing in as­sembly, the right to form uni­ons, free­dom of speech, free­dom of press. And all these polit­ic­al rights must be pro­tec­ted by uni­ver­sal suf­frage.”

While we are on the sub­ject of Frost’s Left For­um piece, moreover, was I naïve to think that only truth­ers and tankies were pissed off about it? Per­haps I was, but it’s astound­ing to me that any­one else would be. Everything she shat on in that art­icle fully de­served to be shat on: pan­els about how “9/11 was an in­side job,” about how Sla­voj Žižek is a CIA psy­op, or about how cli­mate justice and in­ter­sec­tion­al­ity were be­ing “ap­pro­pri­ated” by main­stream en­vir­on­ment­al­ists, etc. Frost was kind enough to spare his­tor­ic­al reen­act­ment so­ci­et­ies like the US Friends of the So­viet People, which has a ta­ble every year at the event. “Re­spect­ab­il­ity polit­ics” is usu­ally used in a pe­jor­at­ive sense, but if all it takes to be re­spect­able is to not spout bat­shit con­spir­acy the­or­ies or LARP (live-ac­tion role-play) Third World Lib­er­a­tion struggles wear­ing army fa­tigues, then that’s not ask­ing too much.

Elena Louise Lange

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Last but not least, the Swiss Marx­ist Elena Louisa Lange wrote up an in­ter­est­ing re­sponse to my own re­flec­tions on the Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er in­cid­ent. In the com­ment thread at­tached to my post, she poked fun at my rather New Test­a­ment turn to­ward for­give­ness in­stead of wrath. Je­sus, some first cen­tury Jew­ish wiz­ard and re­volu­tion­ary heretic, once re­portedly told his dis­ciples to “love your en­emies,” after all:

Re­cently in­to born again Chris­ti­ans, Ross? As in: “Put up no res­ist­ance to the wicked, but if some­body slaps your right cheek, of­fer him the oth­er one” (Mt 5:39). I kind of un­der­stand your po­s­i­tion, but I don’t ap­prove of it. The bur­den of proof of wheth­er there is a con­sist­ent po­s­i­tion re­gard­ing free speech is with (what passes here for) the Left, not lib­er­al­ism. “Fuck Charlie Hebdo. Fuck free speech.” But when an aca­dem­ic in a uni­versity po­s­i­tion — who by the way writes books on dia­lectics, something he knows jack shit about — makes a “con­tro­ver­sial,” anti-eman­cip­at­ory, struc­tur­ally an­ti­semit­ic “joke,” then ad­voc­at­ing on be­half of free speech is great. Over­whelm­ing, in fact. Ex­plain this to me. In Ger­many, there is the so-called Volks­ver­het­zungs-Para­graph §130 es­tab­lished to pre­vent in­cite­ment of the people, that says: “Who­so­ever, in a man­ner cap­able of dis­turb­ing the pub­lic peace: in­cites hatred against a na­tion­al, ra­cial, re­li­gious group or a group defined by their eth­nic ori­gins, against seg­ments of the pop­u­la­tion or in­di­vidu­als be­cause of their be­long­ing to one of the afore­men­tioned groups or seg­ments of the pop­u­la­tion or calls for vi­ol­ent or ar­bit­rary meas­ures against them; or as­saults the hu­man dig­nity of oth­ers by in­sult­ing, ma­li­ciously ma­lign­ing an afore­men­tioned group, seg­ments of the pop­u­la­tion or in­di­vidu­als be­cause of their be­long­ing to one of the afore­men­tioned groups or seg­ments of the pop­u­la­tion, or de­fam­ing seg­ments of the pop­u­la­tion, shall be li­able to im­pris­on­ment from three months to five years.”

It’s really of minor im­port­ance wheth­er or not “white­ness” refers to a polit­ic­al concept, be­cause the rep­re­hens­ib­il­ity of George Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er’s tweet (and es­pe­cially its struc­tur­ally an­ti­semit­ic and elim­in­a­tion­ist char­ac­ter) lies in its act­ive use and ad­vocacy of a word like “gen­o­cide.” Not only does his “iron­ic” use of this term against the alt-right ab­so­l­u­tize this kind of rhet­or­ic, it also makes him stand at the same level of polit­ic­al in­sight as types like Richard Spen­cer. Both Spen­cer and Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er share a hatred for En­light­en­ment uni­ver­sal­ism. Both have made an­ti­semit­ic com­ments, and are re­puls­ive for do­ing so. It is a farce, though sadly not a very en­ter­tain­ing one, to watch the way their little in­ter­net proxy war re­veals their com­mon ideo­lo­gic­al basis. When so-called left­ists de­fend calls for gen­o­cide, even made in a sup­posedly “hu­mor­ous” fash­ion, this just tells me one thing: that their polit­ics are no longer com­mit­ted to an eman­cip­at­ory idea of man­kind, but rather just a prim­it­ive, par­tic­u­lar­ist de­sire to crush equally par­tic­u­lar­ist em­bod­i­ments that they per­ceive as “evil.” Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er’s and his sup­port­ers’ polit­ic­al ana­lys­is is that of a 5-year old (no of­fense to bright 5-year-olds, who have more to of­fer as far as “cri­tiques of the sys­tem” go).

I am skep­tic­al of Lange’s claim that the concept of “gen­o­cide” is in­her­ently an­ti­semit­ic. She’s cer­tainly right that it’s elim­in­a­tion­ist, by defin­i­tion. Gen­o­cides were com­mit­ted against in­di­gen­ous tribes in North Amer­ica and against Ar­meni­ans liv­ing in Tur­key, however, dec­ades be­fore the de­struc­tion of the European Jews. Per­haps these lacked the stark in­dus­tri­al ef­fi­ciency with which the Nazis car­ried out their gen­o­cid­al pro­gram, but they nev­er­the­less had an un­mis­tak­ably sys­tem­at­ic qual­ity about them. Nor would I ap­ply the concept of gen­o­cide in the same man­ner its for­mu­lat­ors did. Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term, char­ac­ter­ized the man­made fam­ines in the So­viet Uni­on dur­ing the First Five-Year Plan as “the de­struc­tion of the Ukrain­i­an na­tion” and “the clas­sic ex­ample of So­viet gen­o­cide” dur­ing a 1953 speech de­livered at the UN. While I ac­know­ledge that what is called Holo­modor took place, and that the star­va­tion dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fected parts of the Ukraine, I do not be­lieve it meets the cri­terion of “gen­o­cide” ori­gin­ally es­tab­lished by Lemkin.

More con­vin­cing, in my opin­ion, is Lange’s con­ten­tion that the views of Spen­cer and Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er are ba­sic­ally iso­morph­ic. That is to say, they each ad­opt a re­ac­tion­ary pos­ture in op­pos­i­tion to cap­it­al­ism. De­co­lo­ni­al the­or­ists like Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er or Houria Bouteldja typ­ic­ally re­ject Marx and En­gels’ char­ac­ter­iz­a­tion of bour­geois so­ci­ety as re­volu­tion­ary in the Mani­festo, deny­ing its pro­gress­ive qual­it­ies, main­tain­ing that the leg­al/polit­ic­al eman­cip­a­tion it helped bring about is a sham. Rad­ic­al tra­di­tion­al­ists like Spen­cer or Chris­ti­an Kopff, fol­low­ers of Ju­li­us Evola, op­pose cap­it­al­ism for the op­pos­ite reas­on, pre­cisely be­cause of its mod­ern­iz­ing in­flu­ence. Both hold up com­munity [Ge­meinsch­aft] against so­ci­ety [Gesell­schaft] and cul­ture [Kul­tur] against civil­iz­a­tion [civil­isa­tion], be­cause in each case the former is seen as a “node of res­ist­ance” against the dis­in­teg­rat­ing/in­teg­rat­ing ef­fect of cap­it­al, whereby “all that is sol­id melts in­to air.” The or­gan­ic solid­ar­ity of tra­di­tion­al com­munit­ies is seen as prefer­able to the mech­an­ic­al solid­ar­ity of mod­ern so­ci­ety. A friend poin­ted out to me a while back that it’s nearly im­possible to tell from the title of an es­say like “For Our Na­tions to Live, Cap­it­al­ism Must Die” wheth­er its au­thor is a de­co­lo­ni­al crit­ic or a Nazbol. J. Sakai’s Set­tlers: Myth­o­logy of the White Pro­let­ari­at eas­ily gives rise to its fas­cist in­ver­sion, Don­ald Thoreson’s pro­mo­tion of “The White Race as Glob­al Pro­let­ari­at.”

Part of the reas­on for this is meth­od­o­lo­gic­al, and in­volves Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er’s fun­da­ment­al mis­un­der­stand­ing of dia­lectics. Lange al­ludes to this in her com­ment, pos­ted above. Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er re­peats “the de­co­lo­ni­al ap­peal to ex­cluded ex­ter­i­or­it­ies” in his cri­tique of con­ven­tion­al dia­lectics, which he finds too tele­olo­gic­al, lin­ear, and de­term­in­ist­ic. In so do­ing, however, he aban­dons the ap­proach of “im­man­ent cri­tique” pur­sued by dia­lec­ticians from Hegel through Marx up to the Frank­furt School. Hegel im­man­ently cri­tiqued Kant’s crit­ic­al philo­sophy, Marx cri­tiqued Smith/Ri­cardo’s polit­ic­al eco­nomy, and the Frank­furt School cri­tiqued Weber’s so­ci­ology. By ges­tur­ing to­ward some tran­scend­ent­al “out­side” that has yet to be fully in­teg­rated or sub­sumed by cap­it­al­ism, Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er re­pu­di­ates the very premise of dia­lect­ic­al thought. This is the reas­on why he ob­jec­ted to a col­league’s at­tempt to mount an im­man­ent cri­tique of crit­ic­al the­ory, “De­col­on­iz­ing The­ory from With­in or Without? A Reply to Baum.” Or as Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er him­self ex­plains, fold­ing one of his main in­flu­ences back in­to a the­or­et­ic­al cur­rent he ex­pli­citly broke from: “[En­rique] Dus­sel is sharply crit­ic­al of dia­lectics and in­stead em­braces what he calls an ana­lectics rooted in the em­brace of the Oth­er, in­flu­enced by Em­manuel Lev­i­nas’ eth­ics of al­ter­ity. However Dus­sel’s break with dia­lectics is far from com­plete, and rather than re­fut­ing a de­col­on­ized dia­lectics, his in­sist­ence on in­cor­por­at­ing the cat­egory of ex­ter­i­or­ity in­to a dia­lectics of na­tion­al and pop­u­lar iden­tity provides an es­sen­tial in­gredi­ent for my own project.”

Be­sides on­to­lo­giz­ing the dia­lectic, as­sim­il­at­ing it to a di­men­sion of Be­ing (à la Kojève and Sartre) rather than see­ing it as the move­ment of his­tory (à la Hegel and Marx), Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er’s ex­tro­ver­sion of its crit­ic­al stand­point has dire con­sequences for every oth­er as­pect of his the­ory. Marx’s cri­tique of polit­ic­al eco­nomy in Cap­it­al takes com­mod­ity pro­duc­tion as its point of de­par­ture. The pro­let­ari­at is an in­teg­ral fea­ture of the so­cial to­tal­ity that res­ults from this mode of pro­duc­tion — con­stitutive of yet an­ti­thet­ic­al to cap­it­al, qua self-val­or­iz­ing value. In­stead of loc­at­ing the neg­a­tion of ex­ist­ing con­di­tions some­where with­in this to­tal­ity, as Marx did, Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er looks for a pre­cap­it­al­ist or ex­tra­cap­it­al­ist re­mainder that’s some­how man­aged to sur­vive or elude cap­ture by civil so­ci­ety. Race, and the “slavery and so­cial death” it im­plies, is what he seizes onto as the locus of res­ist­ance (Bouteldja does something sim­il­ar with re­li­gion, spe­cific­ally Is­lam, though she in­sists this is ra­cially charged). For ex­ample, Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er as­serts in the first chapter of his new book, De­col­on­iz­ing Dia­lectics: “Class is race, and European civil­iz­a­tion little more than bar­bar­ic bru­tal­ity.” He ba­sic­ally ac­cepts the re­ac­tion­ary hy­po­thes­is that race war ought to re­place class war, with Klassen­kampf usurped by Rassen­kampf. Lange is thus ab­so­lutely cor­rect in her ap­prais­al of the sim­il­ar­it­ies between Spen­cer and Cic­car­i­ello-Ma­h­er. A Cuban left com­mun­ist as­sures me Chav­ismo has much more in com­mon with clas­sic­al fas­cism than Trump­ism does, so maybe this shouldn’t be so sur­pris­ing.

12 thoughts on “L’affaire Ciccariello-Maher: “White genocide” and beyond

  1. Here Sey­mour is un­doubtedly cor­rect, just as he is also cor­rect to point out the ri­dicu­lous­ness of the alt-right’s concept of “white gen­o­cide.”

    “Jewish genocide” is an equally ridiculous concept in the current world. Jews are the most powerful single ethnic group in the ruling classes of the American Empire. As an insurance policy , they have a nuclear-armed ethno-state in the ME as backup. So I guess we can also make a joke of “Jewish genocide” if we don’t bow to a historical sensitivity which doesn’t really have any relevance to the contemporary scene.

    When it comes to white genocide, it does seem to be working for white working class, “rednecks”, etc., whose increased death rates are discussed in the recent articles on the “white death.” They are declining rapidly and the remnant that remains will likely be assimilated into the Hispanic working class and the black lumpenproletariat. SWPLs and white elites will decline as well due to both low TFRs and intermarriage with East Asians. The US ruling class of the near future is shaping up to be high-caste Hindus, Ashkenazi Jews (those declining somewhat) and Jewish-East Asian-NW euro hybrids.

    • “Jewish genocide” is an equally ridiculous concept in the current world. Jews are the most powerful single ethnic group in the ruling classes of the American Empire.

      The present status of an ethnic group does not preclude it having experienced genocide in the past. Genocide does not, by definition, equate to total extermination.

      They are declining rapidly and the remnant that remains will likely be assimilated into the Hispanic working class and the black lumpenproletariat.” I’d be interested to see what research you base this assumption upon, likewise your assertion that “The US ruling class of the near future is shaping up to be high-caste Hindus, Ashkenazi Jews (those declining somewhat) and Jewish-East Asian-NW euro hybrids.

      Finally, I would like to ask, assuming that your assertions can be verified, what the relevance is to this post and also, more generally to anything. If we can say that the ethnic composition of the ruling class and the oppressed can vary over time, is the more pressing issue the fact that a ruling elite exists at all?

    • One of the key differences between racism and antisemitism is this: racism hates others for their “inferiority”, antisemitism hates jews for their “superiority”. There are ideas of jewish power, global conspiracy, influence over governments and banking that amalgamate to a desire of ridding the world of the jewish “anti-race”. Meanwhile,(colonial) racism wants to oppress and exploit, and where it exterminates it does not because it ascribes inherent evil, but simply because others were in its way or resisted.

      “The negro ought to be kept where he is, but from the jew they want to rid the world,” as Adorno said.

      This comment suffers from not understanding antisemitism and from there it departs to prove jewish power as condemning for the jewish people. An endeavour that can only incite antisemitism. Antisemites always have understood themselves as the uprising of the subaltern and marginalized against the supposedly overwhelming power of the jews.

  2. This whole case is a lot of blah blah for no particular reason. This Cicciarello person is quite obviously an idiot with incredibly bad political positions. On top of that, he also thinks that it makes him cool and radical to provoke other idiots into meaningless discussions through twitter (ffs). I cannot for the life of me imagine why anyone (with no personal connection or an academic career) should give a fuck if this asshole loses his job because he is an idiot.

    If your politics are some ill-digested crap, there is no chance that what you write on twitter is going to be an improvement. But even if your politics might be ok, twitter will undermine them.

    Sorry Ross, had to get it out.

    • Don’t worry about it.

      Obviously, Ciccariello-Maher is an idiot. But I think it would set a bad precedent for his employer to regulate his political speech outside the job.

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  4. I genuinely read Salaita’s comment as meaning something like: “since Zionists expand and shift the definition of ‘anti-Semitism’ to include things that reflect well on people, like opposition to racial (i.e. Palestinian) oppression and to settler-colonial violence, Zionists have been using the term in ways which make its content ‘honorable'”.

    I assumed that those who claimed to read his tweet as meaning something else, something ‘anti-Semitic’, were, mostly, pretending to do so because it was convenient, or were indifferent to what it meant really if it could be used politically.

    But maybe it seemed so ‘obvious’ to me, such an automatic way to read that comment, because it is an idea I’ve seen and heard expressed before, quite a lot, by many people commenting on the degradation of the concept of anti-Semitism consequent on its instrumentalisation in, mostly, pro-Israeli propaganda. In particular, very similar themes in comments by many Jews critical of Zionism.

    Notably in an essay by Michael Neumann, in which he wrote: “You can use ‘antisemitism’ to fit your political agenda, or you can use it as a term of condemnation, but you can’t do both. If antisemitism is to stop coming out reasonable or moral, it has to be narrowly and unpolemically defined.”

    Maybe for people less embedded in such worlds some other interpretation is genuinely possible.

    At a bit of a stretch I supposed one could say the same about this current business – people, maybe including the administration, with no familiarity with the context of ‘white genocide’ discussion, and such.

    But regardless, on this current affair, it seems to me the most likely result will be for those in academia without tenure, ie people more vulnerable in many ways, to feel far less able to talk freely, make jokes, do or say anything which any asshole might put any kind of horrible spin on, no matter how obviously silly, which can then turn into some horrible social media campaign of mock outrage.

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