For a Dionysian proletariat

Robert Rives La Monte is today a largely forgotten figure in the history of Marxian socialism. He’s probably best remembered for his epistolary exchange with the fiery journalist H.L. Mencken, published in book form as Men versus the Man in 1909. Like Mencken, La Monte was a Nietzsche aficionado and committed advocate of Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Unlike his individualist adversary, however, he did not feel a system of collective ownership was incompatible with modern freedom, stressing the Marxist remark that this future society would be “an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”

Outside this public back-and-forth, La Monte also translated some works by Karl Marx, as well as by Gabriel Deville (one of Marx’s early French supporters) and the Italian Marxist criminologist Enrico Ferri. To be sure, he was quite critical of Deville’s more conservative turn in the 1890s, to say nothing of his horror at Ferri’s sudden admiration for Mussolini late in life. Along with Jack London, the young Walter Lippmann, and a few others, La Monte was an unabashed Nietzschean Marxist. In a magnificent line, he quipped that “today the world’s workers need not Jesus, but Dionysus.” As he went on to explain in his article “Nietzsche, Iconoclast and Prophet” (1908):

In every sense, the red-blooded socialist proletariat seems to me Dionysian, and I’d find it difficult to define class-consciousness in terms that would not to a Nietzschean suggest the Dionysian spirit. You and I would like to see the Proletariat aware of its own tremendous strength, glorying in it, and resolved to use it to emancipate themselves and humanity; we would like to see them living in the actual world of reality instead of dreaming in the fictitious world of Apollonian or bourgeois art; and our highest and ultimate hope is to see them reveling in the joy of the earthly paradise, undeterred by any preacher or moralist. Only a Dionysian working class can accomplish the social revolution. The rank and file of the Socialist Party today are undoubtedly Dionysians.

It was Nietzsche’s misfortune to preach the Gospel of Dionysus to a bourgeoisie close upon senile decay and moral degeneracy and live his life in utter ignorance of the only class which in our day is capable of breeding Dionysians — the proletariat.

La Monte was quite adamant on this point: “We socialists must recognize [Nietzsche] as a brother revolutionary… His chief theme seized upon the violent contradiction between the ruthless self-seeking of capitalism in an age when the cash nexus had become the only tie between man and man. No mercy was shown and no quarter given upon the fields of industrial and commercial warfare, despite the [Christian] religion of love, sympathy, and self-sacrifice professed in all capitalist countries.” For Trotsky, writing around the same time in 1908, Nietzsche’s brazen amorality was a weapon against “moralizing populism.” Davidovich rushed to defend Nietzsche against Narodnik platitudes.

Indeed, many Marxist revolutionaries in Russia — Anatoly Lunacharsky, Stanislav Volski, Aleksandr Bogdanov, and Vitaly Bazarov, to name only those listed by George Kline — also took inspiration from Nietzsche. Maksim Gorky, the great realist author, likewise drank deeply from the well of Nietzsche’s philosophy. Clara Zetkin and Erich Mühsam, prominent Marxists in Germany, along with literary champions of socialism like Karl Henckell and Alfred Klineberg, all cited Nietzsche as a formative influence. Even Franz Mehring eventually came around. Upon first encountering the philosopher’s writings in the 1890s, he’d described Nietzsche as “the philosopher of financial capitalism,” writing:

Absent from Nietzsche’s thinking was an explicit philosophical confrontation with socialism. That was a big mistake for a philosopher at the end of the nineteenth century, because a philosopher who doesn’t know how to confront the most powerful movement of his time is anything but a philosopher. But the real problem was that this gap left open the possibility to whitewash Nietzsche’s philosophy of monopoly capitalism and to aestheticize away the fact that he combated proletarian class struggle from the same elevated circles of thought as did the next best stockbroker or the next best reptile.

By the early 1900s, Mehring had changed his tune. “The Nietzsche cult is useful to socialism,” he wrote. “No doubt, Nietzsche’s writings have their pitfalls for young people growing up within the bourgeois classes, laboring under bourgeois class-prejudices. For such people, however, Nietzsche is often a gateway to socialism.” Victor Serge adopted an opposite approach in a 1917 article, but arrived at the same conclusion about Nietzsche: “He was our enemy. So be it. But he himself said to us: Desire perfect enemies. One can fraternize with ‘perfect’ enemies; our struggle with them makes us more beautiful, more fertile.”

Remarks such as these have not ceased to scandalize Stalinists like Georg Lukács. Or at least the one who wrote The Destruction of Reason in 1952, which Adorno hilariously dubbed “the destruction of Lukács’ own reason.” He read National Socialism back into Nietzsche’s philosophy in such a way that it became simply a straightforward anticipation of the views later promulgated by Alfred Rosenberg. Mazzino Montinari, the Italian Marxist critic who co-edited the critical German edition of Nietzsche’s complete works, observed that “there are cases in which Lukács’ Nietzsche is more of a strict national socialist than [Nazi state philosopher] Alfred Bäumler’s Nietzsche.” Continue reading

Capital as subject and the existence of labor

kupka-egalite-4 kupka-fraternite-4

Werner Bonefeld
Open Marxism
Volume 3, 1995
.
.

Editorial note
.

Been reading furiously through the Theories of Surplus Value and the 1863 manuscripts on the relation of “subject” and “object” in Marx’s later writings. My hunch is that Postone is right in his reversal of Lukács, who had the proletariat as the simultaneous subject-object of History. For Postone, it’s capital that is the simultaneous subject-object of History. The thing is, they’re both right. And I’m not saying this just so as not to pick a side, though I think ultimately it’s Lukács who gets the better of Postone (at the precise moment the latter seems to have the upper hand).

Living labor or variable capital — i.e., the proletariat as the embodiment of wage-labor — is the subjective factor in production. Dead labor or constant capital — i.e., the bourgeoisie, or rather the means of production they own, as the embodiment of capital — is the objective factor in production. Early in Capital, Marx identifies the vitality of labor-power as “the subjective factor of the labor process,” and goes on to state that “the same elements of capital which, from the perspective of the labor process, can be distinguished respectively as the objective and subjective factors, as means of production and labor-power, can be distinguished from the perspective of the valorization process as constant and variable capital.”

 However, under capitalism these roles appear reversed: the products rule over their producers. Consider a couple passages from the 1863 manuscripts. First,

Objectified, past labor… becomes the sovereign of living, present labor. The relation of subject and object is inverted. If already in the presupposition the objective conditions for the realization of the worker’s labor capacity and therefore for actual labor appear to the worker as alien, independent powers, which relate to living labor rather as the conditions of their own preservation and increase — the tool, the material [of labor] and the means of subsistence only giving themselves up to labor in order to absorb more of it — this inversion is still more pronounced in the result. In both directions, therefore, the objective conditions of labor are the result of labor itself, they are its own objectification, and it is its own objectification, labor itself as its result, that confronts labor as an alien power, as an independent power; while labor confronts the latter again and again in the same objectlessness, as mere labor capacity.

[Die vergegenständlichte, vergangene Arbeit wird so zum Herrscher über die lebendige, gegenwärtige Arbeit. Das Verhältnis von Subjekt und Objekt wird verkehrt. Wenn in der Voraussetzung schon dem Arbeiter die gegenständlichen Bedingungen zur Verwirklichung seines Arbeitsvermögens und daher zur wirklichen Arbeit als fremde, selbständige Mächte gegenüber erscheinen, die sich vielmehr zur lebendigen Arbeit als die Bedingungen ihrer eignen Erhaltung und Vermehrung verhalten — Werkzeug, Material, Lebensmittel, die sich nur an die Arbeit hingeben, um in sich selbst mehr Arbeit einzusaugen —, so erscheint dieselbe Verkehrung noch mehr im Resultat. Die gegenständlichen Bedingungen der Arbeit sind selbst Produkte der Arbeit und, soweit sie von der Seite des Tauschwerts betrachtet werden, nichts als Arbeitszeit in gegenständlicher Form. Nach beiden Seiten hin sind also die gegenständlichen Bedingungen der Arbeit Resultat der Arbeit selbst, ihre eigne Vergegenständlichung, und es ist diese ihre eigne Vergegenständlichung, sie selbst als ihr Resultat, die ihr als fremde Macht, als selbständige Macht, gegenübertritt und der gegenüber sie immer wieder in derselben Gegenstandslosigkeit, als bloßes Arbeitsvermögen, gegenübertritt.]

Next,

Since the economists identify past labor with capital — past labor being understood in this case not only in the sense of concrete labor embodied in the product, but also in the sense of social labor, materialized labor time — it is understandable that they, the Pindars of capital, emphasize the objective elements of production and overestimate their importance as against the subjective element, living, immediate labor. For them, labor only becomes efficacious when it becomes capital and confronts itself, the passive element confronting its active counterpart. The producer is therefore controlled by the product, the subject by the object, labor which is being embodied by labor embodied in an object, etc. In all these conceptions, past labor appears not merely as an objective factor of living labor, subsumed by it, but vice versa; not as an element of the power of living labor, but as a power over this labor.

[Da die Ökonomen die vergangene Arbeit mit dem Kapital identifizieren — vergangene Arbeit hier sowohl im Sinne der konkreten, in den Produkten realisierten Arbeit, als im Sinne der gesellschaftlichen Arbeit, materialisierter Arbeitszeit — , so versteht sich bei ihnen, als den Pindaren des Kapitals, daß sie die gegenständlichen Elemente der Produktion geltend machen und ihre Bedeutung überschätzen gegenüber dem subjektiven Element, der lebendigen, unmittelbaren Arbeit. Die Arbeit wird ihnen erst adäquat, sobald sie Kapital wird, sich selbst gegenübertritt, das Passivum der Arbeit ihrem Aktivum. Das Produkt ist daher bestimmend über den Produzenten, der Gegenstand über das Subjekt, die realisierte Arbeit über die sich realisierende etc. In allen diesen Auffassungen tritt die vergangene Arbeit nicht auf als bloß gegenständliches Moment der lebendigen und von ihr subsumierten, sondern umgekehrt; nicht als ein Machtelement der lebendigen Arbeit, sondern als Macht über diese Arbeit.]

Capital is the actual, albeit unconscious, form of society’s self-objectifying subjectivity, while the proletariat is rather its potential form. Only by becoming conscious of its position within the totality of production (in other words, by attaining class consciousness in the Lukácsean sense) can the subjectivity of the latter be actualized. Wage labor and capital are, after all, only two sides of the same value-relation, constitutive of yet antithetical to one another. Inverting this inverted relationship — expropriating the expropriators, negating the negation — humanity masters its own social organization and finally sets itself off from the rest of the animal kingdom.

Marx’s famous dictum that “the emancipation of the workers [object] must be the task of the workers themselves [subject]” captures precisely this image of the proletariat as subject and object of social emancipation. Yet this “historic mission” does not mean affirming the class essence of workers. Socialist revolution will not result in universal proletarianization; capitalism has already accomplished this. “Just as the condition for the liberation of the third estate, of the bourgeois order, was the abolition of all estates and all orders, so the condition for the emancipation of the working class is the abolition of every class.”

Postone is of course understandably wary of the “notion of the proletariat as the revolutionary Subject, in the sense of a social agent that both constitutes history and realizes itself in socialism.” He writes: “Far from entailing the realization of the proletariat, overcoming capitalism involves the material abolition of proletarian labor.” But Lukács wholeheartedly agreed with this assessment:

Subjectively, i.e. for the class consciousness of the proletariat, the dialectical relationship between immediate interests and objective impact on the whole of society is located in the consciousness of the proletariat itself. It does not work itself out as a purely objective process quite apart from all (imputed) consciousness — as was the case with all classes hitherto. Thus the revolutionary victory of the proletariat does not imply, as with former classes, the immediate realization of the socially given existence of the class, but, as the young Marx clearly saw and defined, its self-annihilation.

Qua embodied negativity, as the negative condition of class society and the promise of its dissolution, “affirmation” of the proletariat can only mean abolishing the present state of affairs. This is what Engels meant when he remarked that “communism is the doctrine of the conditions of the liberation of the proletariat.”

As I’ve written elsewhere, capital is nothing other than the alienated agency of unrealized humanity. The proletariat does not presently represent the material human community in nuce, but it alone is capable of realizing it. By taking command over the accumulated instruments of production, it finally makes possible the advent of a truly human history. Lukács confirms this:

The “realm of freedom,” the end of the “prehistory of mankind” means precisely that the power of the objectified, reified relations between men begins to revert to man. The closer this process comes to its goal the more urgent it becomes for the proletariat to understand its own historical mission and the more vigorously and directly proletarian class consciousness will determine each of its actions. For the blind power of the forces at work will only advance “automatically” to their goal of self-annihilation as long as that goal is not within reach. When the moment of transition to the “realm of freedom” arrives this will become apparent just because the blind forces really will hurtle blindly towards the abyss, and only the conscious will of the proletariat will be able to save mankind from the impending catastrophe.

Werner Bonefeld addresses some of these same issues in the essay appended below, albeit in a somewhat different manner than I do here. He’s addressing Bob Jessop, rather than Postone, whose work he engages with elsewhere. Bonefeld makes many similar points, although as a rule he tends to denigrate “class consciousness.” I take this to be symptomatic of his anti-Leninism, but otherwise agree with his position.

To be sure, he’s right that “[i]n Marx’s work there is hardly any reference to ‘class consciousness’… Marx was not interested in the psychology of the working class.” Nevertheless, though the word Klassenbewußtsein does not appear in Marx’s work, its rudiments can be made out in numerous places. E.g., the Manifesto, where it is written that “the proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority.”

(As far as I can tell, Kautsky coined the “class consciousness,” indicated by Engels’ 1891 comment: “Instead of ‘class-conscious,’ which in our circles is an easily understood abbreviation, I would say the following to facilitate universal understanding and translation into foreign languages: ‘with workers conscious of their class position,’ or something like it.”)

Personally, I think the issue of proletarian consciousness, what Luxemburg in Reform or Revolution called “the subjective factor in the socialist transformation,” is indispensable. “The stronger [the] contradiction [within production] becomes,” wrote Lenin in 1899, “the more developed become the objective conditions for this transformation, as well as the subjective conditions [объективные условия этого превращения, так и субъективные условия], the workers’ consciousness of this contradiction [сознание противоречия работниками].”

Contra Kautsky, sixteen years later, Lenin thundered: “Not every revolutionary situation…gives rise to a revolution; revolution arises only out of a situation in which the… objective changes are accompanied by a subjective change, namely, the ability of the revolutionary class to take revolutionary mass action strong enough to break (or dislocate) the old government, which never, not even in a period of crisis, ‘falls,’ if it is not toppled over.” Continue reading

Сталин и Гитлер: возможно ли сравнение?

Столкновение
ревизионистов
.

.
Much to my surprise, Sergey Adaschik has translated an essay I wrote about a month ago: “Revisionism revisited: Ernst Nolte and Domenico Losurdo on the age of extremes.” He contacted me a few days ago to let me know it had been posted and to make sure it was okay, which of course it is, though I might quibble somewhat with the title.  Stalin and Hitler can of course be compared. But under no circumstance should they be equated. Nor is it all that useful to lump them together under the heading of “totalitarianism,” which obscures more than clarifies the issue. What I aimed to do, rather, was to look for points of contact between various “revisionisms,” for or against. In any case, it’s very flattering that someone went to the trouble of translating it. Thanks, Sergey!
.
.

«Ревизионизм» — термин сравнительно недавно появившийся. Этимологически привязывается к 1903, когда приключился ревизионистский спор в рядах Немецкой социал-демократии. Смысл понятия с тех пор остаётся более-менее устойчивым: он указывает на стремление пересмотреть или представить заново некую важную доктрину или сложившийся консенсус. Однако, за свой недолгий срок ревизионизм сумел приобрести множество исторических референций. С учетом его сложившейся полисемичности следовало бы упорядочить различные концепты, которые он обозначает.

Недавний уход Эрнста Нольте в возрасте 93 лет (18 августа 2016) предоставляет уникальную возможность для такой рефлексии. Неоднозначно воспринимаемый историк стал всемирно известным, как минимум в определенных кругах, в середине 1980х когда происходил «спор историков» [Historikerstreit]. Начиная с выступления в Мюнхене в июне 1980, озаглавленного «Между Исторической легендой и Ревизионизмом?», Нольте стремился поместить нацистский геноцид в контекст мировой гражданской войны [Weltbürgerkrieg], длившейся с Октябрьской революции в 1917 до падения Берлина в мае 1945. Он видел в этом неудачную (но понятную) реакцию на ужасное насилие, запущенное большевиками в России:

Освенцим явился не столько результатом традиционного антисемитизма, и даже не еще одним прецедентом «геноцида». Он был реакцией страха уничтожения, возникшего в ходе Русской Революции. Хотя по факту он оказался более иррациональным, ужасным и отталкивающим, чем те основания к сингулярному действию, которые давал его предшественник, это не меняет того, что так называемое уничтожение евреев Третьим рейхом было реакцией или извращенной копией, а не первичным или самобытным актом.

Шестью годами позже в передовице, вызвавшей дискуссию, Нольте вновь ставит вопрос: «Не потому ли национал-социалисты или Гитлер совершили «азиатское» деяние, что они просто полагали себя потенциальными жертвами «азиатского» акта? Не предшествовал ли Архипелаг ГУЛАГ Освенциму?» Для Нольте «большевистское убийство целого класса было логически и фактически первым [prius] ‹расовым убийством› национал-социализма…». Однако, невзирая на эти предположительно смягчающие обстоятельства, Германия в одиночестве оказалась захвачена «прошлым, которое не проходит». Проворачивая лезвие, он добавляет: «разговор о виновности немцев легкомысленно упускает сходство с речами о ‹виновности евреев›, которые были главным доводом национал-социалистов». Вполне ожидаемо провокативные слова Нольте произвели шум, когда Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung засыпали гневными письмами.

Юрген Хабермас был среди тех, кто дал свой ответ летом 1986го. Это тут же придало вес дебатам. В то время Хабермас находился на пике своей силы, выступая как самый известный в стране интеллектуал. Как неоспоримый наследник Теодора Адорно, он представлял «второе поколение» критической теории Франкфуртской школы. Нольте был последователем Мартина Хайдеггера, «известного» философа наци, против которого неутомимо выступал Адорно, и призрак «научного куратора» маячил на заднем плане. Как угадывалось с самого начала, Хабермас обрушился против апологетического характера работы, «в которой Нольте, студент Хайдеггера, оглашает свою ‹философскую трактовку истории›». Даже заявления, умаляющие значимость предшественников, по умолчанию поддерживали их репутацию, как, например, когда Хабермас заявил, что «дело не в полемике Поппера против Адорно, не в академическом расхождении мнений, и не вопросах свободы от оценочных суждений [Wertfreiheit]. Дело скорее в публичном применении истории». Следуя этой логике, он через несколько страниц повторяет: «После 1945 … мы читаем Хайдеггера, Карла Шмитта и Ханса Фрайера, даже Эрнста Юнгера, совершенно иначе, чем до 1933го».

Вчитываясь в эти дебаты 30 лет спустя ощущаешь сомнение — в этом ли состоит основная проблема? Может ли событие стать частью истории без утраты своей сингулярности? Не «приземляет» ли его сам акт контекстуализации? Возможно ли одновременно «понимать и осуждать», как это выразил участник полемики  Христиан Мейер? Сравнивать два отдельных объекта значит соотносить их, если не подвергать релятивизации. Ханс Моммзен возразил аргументам Нольте и его сторонника Йоахима Феста, обосновывая тем, что они исподтишка стремятся «релятивизировать» нацизм через его сопоставление с большевизмом. С настоянием на сравнимости или «допустимости определенных сравнений» (по выражению Нольте) весь разговор о сингулярности стремительно рассеивается. Франсуа Фюре, историк-ревизионист Французской революции и неизменный поклонник своего немецкого коллеги, говорил, что одним из величайших достоинств Нольте был «решительный уход от запрета на помещение большевизма и нацизма в один мешок». Поль Рикёр заметил в работе Память, История, Забвение за год до своей смерти, что «массовое применение сравнений улаживает судьбу сингулярности или уникальности, поскольку только это позволяет опознать различия… Только с расширением критической полемики в этом направлении Нольте ожидает возможности для этого прошлого «пройти», как и всякому прочему и быть усвоенным». Continue reading

Revisionism revisited: Ernst Nolte and Domenico Losurdo on the age of extremes

.
“Revisionism” — Revisionismus, révisionnisme, ревизионизм — is a word of relatively recent vintage. Most etymologies date its origin to around 1903, when the revisionist dispute befell German Social Democracy. Its meaning has remained more or less constant since then: the term denotes an effort to revise or otherwise reenvision some prior doctrine or established consensus. Already in its short career, however, revisionism has managed to amass a range of historical referents. Given this polysemic quality, a bit of disentanglement seems in order to sort out the different phenomena it signifies.

Ernst Nolte’s death late last week, at the age of 93, offers a unique opportunity for such reflection. The controversial historian rose to international prominence, or at least achieved a certain notoriety, during the mid-1980s as part of the “historians’ quarrel” [Historikerstreit]. Beginning with an address he delivered in Munich in June 1980, entitled “Between Historical Legend and Revisionism?”, Nolte sought to place the Nazi genocide within the context of a global civil war [Weltbürgerkrieg] that lasted from the October Revolution in 1917 to the fall of Berlin in May 1945. He framed it as an unfortunate (but understandable) response to the horrific violence unleashed by the Bolsheviks in Russia:

Auschwitz was not primarily a result of traditional antisemitism, and not just one more case of “genocide.” It was a fear-borne reaction to acts of annihilation that took place during the Russian Revolution. While the fact that it was more irrational, terrible, and repulsive than its precursor provides a foundation for the notion of singularity, none of this alters that the so-called [!!!] annihilation of the Jews by the Third Reich was a reaction or a distorted copy and not a first act or an original.

Six years later, in the editorial that sparked the controversy, Nolte again posed the question: “Did the National Socialists or Hitler perhaps commit an ‘Asiatic’ deed merely because they considered themselves potential victims of an ‘Asiatic’ deed? Wasn’t the Gulag Archipelago primary to Auschwitz?” For Nolte, “the Bolsheviks’ murder of an entire class was the logical and factual prius of the ‘racial murder’ of National Socialism…” Yet, despite these supposed mitigating circumstances, Germany alone was trapped in “a past that will not pass.” Twisting the knife, he added, “talk about ‘the guilt of the Germans’ blithely overlooks the similarity to the talk about ‘the guilt of the Jews,’ which was a main argument of the National Socialists.” Predictably, Nolte’s provocations led to an uproar, as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung was flooded with angry letters.

Stalin, Hitler, similar salutes copy 2 U_39_299435507822_paris37.a

Jürgen Habermas was among those who sent a reply the summer of 1986. Immediately, this added a great deal of weight to the debate. At the time, Habermas was at the height of his powers, by far the country’s best-known intellectual. Heir apparent to Theodor Adorno, he represented the “second generation” of Frankfurt School critical theory. Nolte had been a follower of Martin Heidegger, the (in)famous Nazi philosopher against whom Adorno had tirelessly polemicized, so the ghosts of the Doktorväter were close at hand. This was evident from the outset, as Habermas inveighed against the apologetic tendencies at work “in what Nolte, the student of Heidegger, calls his ‘philosophical writing of history’.” Even statements downplaying the relevance of these forebears tacitly invoked their authority, as for example when Habermas declared that “it is not a matter of Popper versus Adorno, nor of scholarly differences of opinion, nor about questions of freedom from value judgments [Wertfreiheit]. Rather, it is about the public use of history.” Driving this point home, a few pages down, he reiterated: “After 1945… we read [Martin] Heidegger, Carl Schmitt, and Hans Freyer, even Ernst Jünger, differently than before 1933.”

Looking back at this exchange now thirty years on, one wonders whether this is not the crux of the matter. Can an event be historicized without diminishing its singularity? Or does the very act of contextualization thereby render it mundane? Is it possible to simultaneously “comprehend and condemn,” as Christian Meier suggested in the title of his contribution to the debate? To compare two distinct objects is to relate them, if not relativize them as such. Hans Mommsen objected to claims made by Nolte and his attack dog, Joachim Fest, on the grounds that they surreptitiously aimed at “relativizing” Nazism through its comparison with Bolshevism. By insisting on their comparability, or “the permissibility of certain comparisons” (as Nolte put it), all talk of singularity swiftly goes out the window. François Furet, revisionist historian of the French Revolution and unabashed admirer of his German counterpart, one of Nolte’s greatest merits was to have “quickly gone beyond the prohibition against putting Bolshevism and Nazism in the same bag.” Paul Ricoeur noted in Memory, History, Forgetting, just a year before his death, “this massive use of comparison settles the fate of singularity or uniqueness, since this alone permits the identification of differences… As soon as the critical debate has been widened in this way, Nolte expects it will allow this past ‘to pass’ like any other and be appropriated.” Continue reading

Decolonial communization?

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.

Introducing Patlotch

.
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. Continue reading

Capitalism and gay identity


..

.
John D’Emilio’s classic essay, with a brief
contextual introduction by Rosemary Hennessy.
Reblogged from Communists in Situ.
.
.

The birth and short-lived life of gay Marxism:
“Capitalism and gay identity” in context

Rosemary Hennessy
Profit and Pleasure
(July 26, 2000)
.
.

The Stonewall uprising in New York City in June 1969 was the most immediate catalyst for the formation of the gay liberation movement. Before the end of the summer of 1969, the Gay Liberation Front had formed in the United States, and within the following year gay liberation groups sprang into existence across the country (D’Emilio 1983, 232-233). Gay liberation was itself an outcome of the adjustments of late capitalism that spawned the general international insurgency circa 1968. Most immediately, it was inspired by the black power movement and the rise of feminism — both of which included fractions that aimed to articulate the historical relationship between culture and class, local and global forces. As in much of the New Left, there was general agreement within gay liberation thinking that capitalism was oppressive. Many gay liberation manifestos at least rhetorically drew connections between capitalism and repressive sexuality, racism and imperialism. But the gay liberation movement was by no means thoroughly influenced by Marxism or a united socialist front, and its internal debates sorted out in what seem in hindsight to be predictable ways. There were those who, despite references to capitalism, basically focused on and advocated for cultural change, and there were those more avowedly Marxist groups that stressed that political and cultural concerns needed to be linked to more global economic structures in some way.1

One set of texts that succinctly demonstrates these different leanings is Carl Whitman’s “Gay Manifesto” and the reply to it written by the gay socialist group Red Butterfly (Blasius and Phelan 380-390). Although Red Butterfly supports Whitman for generally linking the individual effects of gay oppression to “the social and economic facts which are at once the cause and effects of this situation,” they note the tension in his manifesto between personal freedom and the need for collective action, and they critique Whitman’s promotion of “coming out” as an inadequate strategy for social change in itself because it can so easily separate personal liberation from changing the social conditions that foster gay oppression. Comprised of a loose network of collectives, journals, newsletters, study groups, conferences, and actions whose most intensive activity lasted only until the mid-seventies, the Gay Left represented a short-lived but vital willingness to make use of Marxism as a critical framework to link sexual oppression to global capitalism. In fact, however, there were more gestures in this direction than there were developed theoretical explanations from which to forge a fundamentally anticapitalist activist politics. Nonetheless, the fact that a broad sector of the discourse of gay liberation was at least in spirit directed toward connecting sexual oppression to the history of capitalism made this one of the most exciting flash points in the historical development of a critical and materialist understanding of sexuality. Continue reading

Non-identity and negation

“Identitarianism” and the
affirmation of difference

.

we are generation identity, blood and soil

Renovators and renegades

.
In a classic 1952 essay on “The Historical Invariance of Marxism,” Amadeo Bordiga identified three contemporary forms of opposition to Marxist theory. First of all there were the bourgeois apologists, who denied the validity of Marx’s critique of political economy. Next there were the Stalinists, who verified Marx’s insights in word but falsified them in deed. Last but not least came the renovators, who tried to modernize Marx’s concepts — i.e., the “self-declared advocates of revolutionary doctrine and method who nonetheless attribute its current abandonment by most of the working class to defects and initial gaps in the theory which must be rectified and brought up to date. Deniers — falsifiers — modernizers. We fight against all three, but we consider the third group [of adversaries] to be the worst of the lot.”

Bordiga’s hardheaded “invariance” was of course largely strategic, meant to sustain a set of principles against unwarranted revisions, additions, subtractions, etc. Marxism addresses itself primarily to history, to changing conditions which must be dealt with on their own terms. Principles, while not totally sacrosanct, should not be compromised at a whim, in order to accommodate regression or to rationalize defeat (Stalin’s motto of “socialism in one country,” for example, was only adopted after it became clear that proletarian revolution had failed in the West). Recently, however, it has again been suggested that Marxism must be supplemented, augmented, or otherwise updated so as to be more inclusive or appeal more to a broader range of people. LIES: A Journal of Materialist Feminism at least poses this as an open-ended question: “How do we assess the many different theories that attempt to describe the structure of race, gender, and class?” Questions like this seem to suppose definite answers, though, which invariably prove weaker than the original line of inquiry.

Yesterday, in a discussion about how to conceptualize race under capitalism, one ostensible left communist remarked that “there are any number of left communists who are ready to explain to you where ‘intersectionalism’ fails, but how many of them can account for why it exists?” Another discussant then asserted that “a left communist fusion with identitarian points of view is necessary. We need to do more than dismiss a whole perspective just because of differences in language and analysis.” Terms such as “identitarian” and “identitarianism” are of fairly recent vintage, stemming from several sources, hence polysemic. Black socialist critics like Adolph Reed use these terms to denote “essentialized ascriptive identities, commonly referred to as identity politics.” Here the identities in question are multiple, referring to discrete groups whose distinct characteristics, fluid social relations, are fast-frozen and held aloft as if solids. Or else they are snatched from the air, from the misty realm of ideology — as the reified distillate of cultural stereotypes. For the critical theorist Theodor W. Adorno, “identitarian” signified just the opposite, the idea of a harmonious social totality in which every antagonism had been surreptitiously removed.

Anyway, I objected that a fairly widespread identitarian movement already exists across Europe and the United States. It is one with which socialists must not fuse, however, under any circumstances. Since 2002, the extreme right-wing nationalist Bloc Identitaire has been active in France. Now it has managed to set up a branch in England and establish a foothold in America. Generation Identity, as it calls itself, is the logical culmination of the “identity politics” foolishly embraced by many parts of the Left these last few years. “Our only inheritance is our blood, soil, and heritage,” reads their headline, with clearly fascist overtones. “We are heirs of our destiny.” Just a couple months ago, the National Policy Institute (NPI) held an entire conference devoted to identity politics in Washington, DC. Claus Brinker, who covered the event for the website Counter-Currents, reported that it aimed to ascertain “the future of white racial identity politics.” In the comments thread of a post several years ago by Red Maistre, “On Identitarianism: In Defense of a Strawman,” Maoist veteran Carl Davidson argued that the real enemy was tacit “white male identity politics.”

Tacit or not, it is clear that formations like Generation Identity and Bloc Identitaire represent something new. When I brought them up, the aforementioned discussant did not seem to appreciate it. “You must have been confused by my terminology,” was the reply. “I did not mean that particular brand…” My response was to ask what the approved brands of identitarianism might be, expressing my concern that drawing distinctions of this sort is reminiscent of the attempt to distinguish “good” from “bad” nationalism. Special pleading routinely accompanies support for the “nationalism of the oppressed,” and relies on a similar logic. One wonders if a similar rationale might not be used to justify cheering on various national liberation projects, like every other Maoist and Trotskyist sect. Even anarchists can get in on some of this action now, with the PKK’s Bookchinite municipalism. Why not just ditch the whole left communist schtick if what you really want is to wave a Palestinian, Kurdish, or Naxalite flag? Continue reading

“Gay imperialism”: Postcolonial particularity

Those who op­pose Marx­ism, En­light­en­ment, or even lib­er­al ideo­lo­gies on the ground that they are Euro­centric or co­lo­ni­al im­pos­i­tions, and pro­pose as an al­tern­at­ive sup­posedly more or­gan­ic, au­then­tic­ally in­di­gen­ous life­ways and autoch­thon­ous, com­munit­ari­an wis­dom, are them­selves simply vic­tim to an­oth­er European ideo­logy: Ro­man­ti­cism. I hope it is clear in the fol­low­ing that I do not share the views of Mas­sad or Bouteldja.
.

Homon­ation­al­ism and “pink­wash­ing”

.
Since her re­fus­al to ac­cept the Ber­lin Pride Civil Cour­age Award, Ju­dith But­ler has been a lead­ing crit­ic of “homon­ation­al­ism” and the closely re­lated phe­nomen­on of so-called “pink­wash­ing.” Homon­ation­al­ism is un­der­stood here as an ideo­logy which uses a na­tion’s lib­er­al at­ti­tudes to­ward ho­mo­sexu­al­ity as a means of en­cour­aging ra­cist at­ti­tudes to­ward oth­er na­tions, on the grounds that they are sup­posedly less en­lightened. But­ler stated in a May 2010 ad­dress on “Queer Al­li­ance and An­ti­war Polit­ics” in Ank­ara, Tur­key that “in some parts of Europe and surely in Is­rael as well, the rights of ho­mo­sexu­als are de­fen­ded in the name of na­tion­al­ism.” Or as she put it in Ber­lin, what was sup­posed to be her ac­cept­ance speech: “Les­bi­an, gay, trans, and queer people can be used [by] war­mon­gers in­volved in cul­tur­al wars against im­mig­rants through Is­lamo­pho­bia and mil­it­ary wars against Ir­aq and Afgh­anistan. In this time, through these in­stru­ments, we be­come re­cruited for na­tion­al­ism and mil­it­ar­ism.”

Ref­er­ence is only made in But­ler’s lat­ter state­ment to NATO and the US — which partly ra­tion­al­ized their in­va­sions of Afgh­anistan and Ir­aq, or at least made them more pal­at­able to left-lib­er­als, by present­ing them as an op­por­tun­ity to lib­er­ate wo­men — but Is­rael is clearly also im­plied. Tel Aviv’s vi­brant LGBT scene has been de­servedly praised for its open­ness and ac­cept­ance of dif­fer­ent sexu­al ori­ent­a­tions and gender iden­tit­ies, but this repu­ta­tion sim­ul­tan­eously serves pro­pa­gand­ist­ic ends. Jux­ta­posed against daily life in the Ga­za strip, where Hamas is in power and things are dif­fi­cult due to crip­pling eco­nom­ic block­ades, Tel Aviv is made out to be a gay oas­is sur­roun­ded by a desert of Is­lam­ist ho­mo­pho­bia. Is­rael uses this con­trast to present a tol­er­ant im­age of it­self, and to di­vert at­ten­tion away from the bit­ter real­it­ies of oc­cu­pa­tion. For­get for a mo­ment the string of stabbings last sum­mer at the Jer­u­s­alem Pride fest­iv­al by Yishai Sch­lis­sel, an ul­tra-or­tho­dox Jew.

In Novem­ber 2011, New York Times ran a brief op-ed by Sarah Schul­man on the “pink­wash­ing” prac­tice of mod­ern Is­rael. Ac­cord­ing to Schul­man, the of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment as well as un­of­fi­cial travel agen­cies in­stru­ment­al­ize the coun­try’s strong re­cord on gay rights (com­pared to the rest of the re­gion, any­way) as a “mes­saging tool” to coun­ter­bal­ance some of the bad press it’s re­ceived from on­go­ing hu­man rights ab­uses. Schul­man’s ori­gin­al art­icle was de­cent, but much of the sub­sequent de­bate dis­mal. Dis­cus­sions of Is­raeli pub­lic re­la­tions, com­monly eu­phem­ized as “ex­plan­a­tion” [has­bara], tend to de­volve rather quickly. They either veer in­to con­spir­acy the­ory, re­peat­ing the old charge that Jews (er, Zion­ists) con­trol the me­dia, or end up deny­ing such a policy even ex­ists, when fel­low­ships are reg­u­larly awar­ded to ad­voc­ates on Is­rael’s be­half. For­ward, the bi­lin­gual Yid­dish daily foun­ded in 1897 by fol­low­ers of Daniel De Le­on, had a sens­ible take: “Not all Is­raeli gay mes­saging is pink­wash­ing. Most of it is just ad­space meant to at­tract gay tour­ists to Tel Aviv. Which it does.” Jay Mi­chael­son, the au­thor of the piece, nev­er­the­less took is­sue with a highly ma­nip­u­lat­ive full-page ad placed by Rabbi Schmu­ley in Decem­ber 2014.

But­ler and Schul­man are of course right to point out that Is­rael’s pro­gress­ive views on gay rights do not ex­cuse its na­tion­al op­pres­sion of Palestini­ans or eth­nic chau­vin­ism to­ward Ar­abs, but the in­verse should also hold true: Hamas’ so-called “res­ist­ance” to Is­raeli mil­it­ar­ism does not ex­cuse its or­gan­iz­a­tion­al an­ti­semit­ism or il­liber­al stance on rights for wo­men and gays.

Se­lect­ive “shib­boleths”

.
Many left­ists stop short of this ba­sic equi­poise, however. For ex­ample, But­ler her­self is ready to ex­cuse or­gan­iz­a­tions guilty of or com­pli­cit with oth­er forms of op­pres­sion. At a 2006 an­ti­war teach-in, watch­able be­low, she af­firmed the “pro­gress­ive” cre­den­tials of brazenly an­ti­semit­ic and ho­mo­phobic groups like Hezbol­lah and Hamas:

Yes, un­der­stand­ing Hamas and Hezbol­lah as so­cial move­ments that are pro­gress­ive, on the Left, part of a glob­al Left, is ex­tremely im­port­ant. That does not stop us from be­ing crit­ic­al of cer­tain di­men­sions of both move­ments. It doesn’t stop those of us who are in­ter­ested in non-vi­ol­ent polit­ics from rais­ing the ques­tion of wheth­er there are oth­er op­tions be­sides vi­ol­ence. So again, a crit­ic­al, im­port­ant en­gage­ment. I mean, I cer­tainly think it should be entered in­to the con­ver­sa­tion on the Left. I sim­il­arly think boy­cotts and di­vest­ment pro­ced­ures are, again, an es­sen­tial com­pon­ent of any res­ist­ance move­ment.

When these re­marks were brought up again in 2012, But­ler re­vised her claims some­what: “These polit­ic­al or­gan­iz­a­tions define them­selves as anti-im­per­i­al­ist. Anti-im­per­i­al­ism is one char­ac­ter­ist­ic of the glob­al left. On that basis one could de­scribe them as part of the glob­al Left.” Even with this qual­i­fic­a­tion, de­scrib­ing Hezbol­lah and Hamas as pro­gress­ive or left­ist or­gan­iz­a­tions based solely on their res­ist­ance to Is­raeli mil­it­ar­ism is laugh­able. Still, like the Marx­ist aca­dem­ic Susan Buck-Morss, But­ler main­tains that some Is­lam­ist groups may be in­cluded un­der the broad um­brella of a “glob­al left.” Buck-Morss wrote in “Can there be a Glob­al Left?”, the fi­nal chapter of her 2003 book Think­ing Past Ter­ror: Is­lam­ism and Crit­ic­al The­ory on the Left: “Is­lam­ist polit­ics has been mul­tiple and con­ten­tious, span­ning a wide vari­ety of polit­ic­al po­s­i­tions, in­clud­ing a crit­ic­al Left… ‘Left’ here would mean rad­ic­al in the crit­ic­al sense [and] also mean cos­mo­pol­it­an: it would define so­cial justice in a way that ex­cludes no group of hu­man­ity from the be­ne­fits of, and mor­al ac­count­ab­il­ity with­in, the glob­al pub­lic sphere.” For a scath­ing re­view of this work, see Arya Za­hedi’s 2009 piece for In­sur­gent Notes.

Frantz Fan­on was far too com­mit­ted an athe­ist to en­ter­tain the pos­sib­il­ity that re­li­gious re­viv­al might play a pro­gress­ive polit­ic­al role in the struggle against im­per­i­al­ism. Though by then he had aban­doned the cos­mo­pol­it­an hu­man­ism of Black Skin, White Masks in fa­vor of all-out war with co­lo­ni­al­ism and the West, Fan­on con­veyed his skep­ti­cism to his ad­mirer Ali Shari­ati. He wrote in a let­ter to Shari­ati:

Even if I do not share your views with re­spect to Is­lam, I re­spect your view that in the Third World (and if you don’t mind, I would prefer to say in the Near and Middle East), Is­lam, more than any oth­er so­cial and ideo­lo­gic­al force, has had an anti-co­lo­ni­al­ist ca­pa­city and an anti-West­ern nature. I hope that your in­tel­lec­tu­als will be able to in­still life in the in­ert and drugged body of the Muslim East so as to raise the con­scious­ness of the people… in or­der to found a dif­fer­ent kind of man and a dif­fer­ent kind of civil­iz­a­tion. I, for one, fear that the fact of re­vital­iz­ing the spir­it of sec­tari­an­ism and re­li­gion may res­ult in a set­back for a na­tion that is en­gaged in the pro­cess of be­com­ing, of dis­tan­cing it­self from its fu­ture and im­mob­il­iz­ing it in its past.

Later, after he sup­por­ted the na­tion­al­ist up­ris­ing in Al­ger­ia, Fan­on ex­pressed his deep mis­giv­ings. “My left­ist lean­ings drove me to­ward the same goal as Muslim na­tion­al­ists. Yet I was too con­scious of the dif­fer­ent roads by which we reached the same as­pir­a­tion. In­de­pend­ence, yes, I agreed. But what in­de­pend­ence? Were we go­ing to fight to build a feud­al, theo­crat­ic Muslim state in Al­ger­ia frowned on by for­eign­ers?” At least in this re­gard, des­pite his ca­pit­u­la­tion to na­tion­al­ism, Fan­on re­mains su­per­i­or to the “de­co­lo­ni­al” dum­basses who id­ol­ize him.

Sadly, this habit of ig­nor­ing ir­re­con­cil­able points of dis­agree­ment in the name of an anti-im­per­i­al­ist co­ali­tion or pop­u­lar front is not lim­ited to aca­dem­ics. Nu­mer­ous act­iv­ists and even some left-wing pop­u­list (“grass­roots”) politi­cians have suc­cumbed to it as well.

Lind­sey Ger­man, to take one act­iv­ist, no­tori­ously an­nounced in 2004 that she was will­ing to com­prom­ise on cer­tain is­sues but not on oth­ers. At the time, Ger­man was a mem­ber of the Brit­ish SWP and Stop the War co­ali­tion. Wo­men’s rights and gay rights were for her ne­go­ti­able, while anti-Zion­ism was not: “Stu­art King says some Muslims are anti-gay, and this is per­fectly true. But it is not a ques­tion we pose to Chris­ti­ans who join the So­cial­ist Al­li­ance, is it? Now I’m per­son­ally in fa­vor of de­fend­ing gay rights, but I am not pre­pared to have it as a shib­boleth, cre­ated by people who won’t de­fend George Gal­lo­way, and who re­gard the state of Is­rael as some­how a vi­able pres­ence, jus­ti­fied in oc­cupy­ing Palestini­an ter­rit­or­ies.” Gal­lo­way him­self is un­will­ing to de­fend wo­men’s re­pro­duct­ive rights in par­lia­ment, de­cry­ing abor­tion as in­fant­i­cide and spout­ing oth­er sex­ist tripe. Of course, none of this mat­ters. His anti-Zion­ism al­lows left­ists to over­look a pleth­ora of re­ac­tion­ary po­s­i­tions, a se­lect­ive blind­ness he is happy to ex­tend to fel­low anti-Zion­ists. Yusuf al-Qaradawi — an Egyp­tian tel­ev­an­gel­ist cler­ic who de­fends wife-beat­ing and fe­male gen­it­al mu­til­a­tion, as well as cor­por­al pun­ish­ment (either by lash­ing or ston­ing) for those guilty of ho­mo­sexu­al acts — was in­vited to Lon­don by Gal­lo­way in 2005. Ken Liv­ing­stone, the former may­or of Lon­don, lauded al-Qaradawi as “a lead­ing pro­gress­ive voice in the Muslim world.”

Auf­heben, an in­de­pend­ent Marxi­an the­or­et­ic­al journ­al in Bri­tain in­spired by Itali­an auto­nom­ism and Dutch-Ger­man coun­cil­ism, chron­icled the far­cic­al ef­fort of the an­ti­war Re­spect Party to win over the “Brit­ish Muslim com­munity.” In its 2009 art­icle “Crois­sants and Roses: New La­bour, Com­mun­al­ism, and the Rise of Muslim Bri­tain,” Auf­heben re­con­struc­ted the tail­ist lo­gic of Re­spect’s SWP lead­er­ship as it des­per­ately sought to house this new mi­lieu with­in its ideo­lo­gic­al head­space. Some of the old Swap­per stances on wo­men’s and gay rights had to be jet­tisoned to make room for this new crowd, it was be­lieved (though Clif­fite Trot­sky­ism al­ways has plenty of room at its dis­pos­al, so vacu­ous is its ideo­logy). Hap­pily, this pan­der­ing was met mostly with in­dif­fer­ence on the part of Brit­ish Muslims:

Vi­tal to the suc­cess of this project, par­tic­u­larly as the anti-war move­ment began to sub­side, was the need to bring the “Brit­ish Muslim com­munity” on board. So as not to put Muslims off, the SWP in­sisted that Re­spect es­chew left-wing “shib­boleths” such as wo­men’s and gay rights. They went to the mosques and echoed the ar­gu­ments of the more rad­ic­al polit­ic­al Is­lam­ists by claim­ing that Bush’s “Glob­al War on Ter­ror” was in fact a war on Muslims — both abroad, with the at­tack on Muslims in Ir­aq and Afgh­anistan, but also at home with the suc­ces­sion of anti-ter­ror­ist le­gis­la­tion — that should be op­posed by all Muslims as “Muslims.” And like the more rad­ic­al polit­ic­al Is­lam­ists they de­nounced New La­bour as Is­lamo­phobic and ra­cist. Yet for all their ef­forts to pander to muslim sens­it­iv­it­ies, Re­spect failed to win over the “Brit­ish Muslim com­munity,” which re­mained wed­ded to New La­bour.

Is there a reas­on left­ists are so ready to con­demn queer and fem­in­ist or­gan­iz­a­tions that sanc­tion or lend ideo­lo­gic­al sup­port to im­per­i­al­ism, yet hes­it­ate to con­demn anti-im­per­i­al­ist groups which es­pouse hatred and vi­ol­ence to­ward wo­men and gays? To be ab­so­lutely clear, both ought to be con­demned. But left­ists of­ten equi­voc­ate be­fore con­demning the lat­ter. Why are they so re­luct­ant to cri­ti­cize re­ac­tion­ary forms of anti-im­per­i­al­ism, es­pe­cially out­side the West?

Post­co­lo­ni­al par­tic­u­lar­ity

.
Usu­ally at this point some sort of “ir­re­du­cible par­tic­u­lar­ity” is in­voked, which is sup­posed to pre­vent a uni­ver­sal judg­ment from be­ing formed. Rad­ic­al oth­er­ness [l’altérité rad­icale] de­mands that the ob­ject of cri­tique be treated on its own terms, rather than sub­sumed un­der fa­mil­i­ar cat­egor­ies. (Nine times out of ten, the par­tic­u­lar­ity in ques­tion is cul­tur­al. See, in this con­nec­tion, But­ler’s 1997 art­icle “Merely Cul­tur­al,” de­fend­ing par­tic­u­lar­ism against its uni­ver­sal­ist de­tract­ors). Claims to uni­ver­sal­ity, it is ob­jec­ted, in real­ity fact re­flect the ex­per­i­ence of a very par­tic­u­lar cul­ture — namely that of Europe, or “the West” — which has been sur­repti­tiously el­ev­ated to the status of a norm­at­ive ideal. Ex­pect­ing every­one to con­form to Euro­centric norms of gay rights or gender equal­ity places an un­fair bur­den on non-West­ern cul­tures, to which these con­cepts do not ap­ply. Joseph Mas­sad’s post­co­lo­ni­al read­ing of what he calls “the Gay In­ter­na­tion­al” is at times al­most akin to Mah­moud Ah­mad­ine­jad’s flip reply to stu­dents at Columbia Uni­versity, where he was vis­it­ing in 2007 (and where Mas­sad con­tin­ues to teach). Asked wheth­er ho­mo­sexu­als in his coun­try have rights, the Ir­a­ni­an pres­id­ent answered: “We don’t have ho­mo­sexu­als in Ir­an.” Mas­sad, not to be con­fused with the Is­raeli secret ser­vice Mossad, writes in De­sir­ing Ar­abs:

The ad­vent of co­lo­ni­al­ism and West­ern cap­it­al to the Ar­ab world has trans­formed most as­pects of daily liv­ing; however, it has failed to im­pose a European het­ero­sexu­al re­gime on all Ar­ab men, al­though its ef­forts were suc­cess­ful in the up­per classes and among the in­creas­ingly West­ern­ized middle classes. It is among mem­bers of these rich­er seg­ments of so­ci­ety that the Gay In­ter­na­tion­al found nat­ive in­form­ants. Al­though mem­bers of these classes who en­gage in same-sex re­la­tions have more re­cently ad­op­ted a West­ern iden­tity (as part of the pack­age of the ad­op­tion of everything West­ern by the classes to which they be­long), they re­main a minus­cule minor­ity among those men who en­gage in same-sex re­la­tions and who do not identi­fy as “gay” nor ex­press a need for gay polit­ics.

Here one is re­minded of Bouteldja’s de­nun­ci­ation of “gay im­per­i­al­ism” [im­pé­ria­lisme gay]. Ac­cord­ing to her, there are no homos in the ban­lieue: “The ho­mo­sexu­al life­style does not ex­ist in the pop­u­lar quar­ters [Le mode de vie ho­mo­sexuel n’existe pas dans les quar­tiers po­pu­laires],” Bouteldja baldly as­serts. For her co-thinkers Félix Bog­gio Éwanjé-Épée and Stella Magliani-Belkacem, gay iden­tity is already a form of co­lo­ni­al im­pos­i­tion: “Ho­mo­sexu­al­ity is a West­ern in­ven­tion forced upon Africa and Mah­greb via an ‘im­per­i­al­ism of life­styles’ [L’ho­mo­sexua­li­té, in­ven­tion oc­ci­den­tale im­po­sée à l’Afrique et au Magh­reb, via un «im­pé­ria­lisme des modes de vie»].” Something sim­il­ar was claimed by Azed­ine Berkane in 2002, after he was ar­res­ted for stabbing Ber­trand Delanoë, the first openly gay may­or of Par­is. Berkane, a known ho­mo­phobe, ex­plained to re­port­ers his be­lief that “Muslim fags don’t ex­ist [Mu­sul­mans pé­dés, ça n’existe pas].” Per­haps Bouteldja & co. would agree with him? Des­pite dif­fer­ences of con­fes­sion, might they not also agree with Pope Fran­cis’ re­cent re­ac­tion­ary hog­wash about the “ideo­lo­gic­al col­on­iz­a­tion” of less de­veloped na­tions by mar­riage equal­ity and “gender the­ory”? Or Bish­op Vic­tor Mes­salles of Santo Domin­go, who re­cently de­cried “gay im­per­i­al­ism”?

Mas­sad told Bog­gio Éwanjé-Épée and Magliani-Belkacem in a 2013 in­ter­view, tellingly titled “Em­pire of Sexu­al­ity,” that sexu­al­ity as such ori­gin­ated in the West. It was sub­sequently ex­por­ted through im­per­i­al con­quest, along with a set of ri­gid bin­ar­ies like homo/hetero, etc. (Claims that bin­ary think­ing is pe­cu­li­ar to West­ern Europe, and was only brought to the rest of the world on galle­ons and steam­ships, are nev­er elab­or­ated or sub­stan­ti­ated. The as­sump­tion that pre­co­lo­ni­al cul­tures were some sort of gender­queer para­dise seems naïve). At any rate, the no­tion that gay iden­tity is a re­l­at­ively re­cent de­vel­op­ment is plaus­ible. Draw­ing on the in­sights of John D’Emilio, who barely war­rants a men­tion in De­sir­ing Ar­abs, Mas­sad stated:

“Sexu­al­ity” it­self, as an epi­stem­o­lo­gic­al and on­to­lo­gic­al cat­egory, is a product of spe­cif­ic Euro-Amer­ic­an his­tor­ies and so­cial form­a­tions: i.e., a Euro-Amer­ic­an “cul­tur­al” cat­egory that is not uni­ver­sal or ne­ces­sar­ily uni­ver­sal­iz­able. In­deed, even when the cat­egory “sexu­al­ity” has traveled with European co­lo­ni­al­ism to non-European loc­ales, its ad­op­tion in those con­texts where it oc­curred was neither identic­al nor even ne­ces­sar­ily sym­met­ric­al with its de­ploy­ment in Europe and Euro-Amer­ica. John D’Emilio ar­gued many years ago that “gay men and les­bi­ans have not al­ways ex­is­ted. In­stead, they are a product of his­tory, and have come in­to ex­ist­ence in a spe­cif­ic his­tor­ic­al era… as­so­ci­ated with the re­la­tions of cap­it­al­ism.” We must add… that their his­tor­ic­al emer­gence and pro­duc­tion was also spe­cif­ic to those geo­graph­ic re­gions of the world and those classes with­in them where a spe­cif­ic type of cap­it­al ac­cu­mu­la­tion had oc­curred and where cer­tain types of cap­it­al­ist re­la­tions of pro­duc­tion pre­vailed. As cap­it­al­ism is the uni­ver­sal­iz­ing means of pro­duc­tion and it has pro­duced its own in­tim­ate forms and modes of fram­ing cap­it­al­ist re­la­tions, these forms and modes have not been in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized across na­tion­al laws and eco­nom­ies, and in the quo­tidi­an and in­tim­ate prac­tices of vari­ous peoples, in the same way.

D’Emilio sought to demon­strate that the ef­fect of cap­it­al­ism on the emer­gence of gay and les­bi­an iden­tit­ies in the West was both an out­come of labor re­la­tions that re­quired new res­id­en­tial and mi­grat­ory activ­it­ies, the dis­sol­u­tion or weak­en­ing of kin­ship and fam­ily ties, and the de­vel­op­ment of a con­sumer so­ci­ety and the emer­gence of so­cial net­works that pro­duce, shape, and ar­tic­u­late sexu­al de­sires that are com­men­sur­ate with these changes, which led to the de­vel­op­ment of sexu­al iden­tit­ies… That Gay In­ter­na­tion­al­ists seek to as­sim­il­ate these iden­tit­ies by for­cing them in­to the frame of the homo-hetero bin­ary is it­self a cul­tur­ally im­per­i­al­ist symp­tom of im­per­i­al cap­it­al’s pen­et­ra­tion of peri­pher­al coun­tries, and not the out­come or ef­fect of such pen­et­ra­tion, since in most cases it was un­able to re­pro­duce or im­pose norm­at­ive European sexu­al iden­tit­ies on the ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion. Here, we must bear in mind that, as Ed­ward Said re­minds us, “im­per­i­al­ism is the ex­port of iden­tity.” It op­er­ates in the re­gister of pro­du­cing non-Europe as oth­er, and some­times as al­most the same as (or po­ten­tially the same as) Europe.

Non­ethe­less, though he sets out from sol­id found­a­tions (D’Emilio’s), Mas­sad soon finds him­self on un­sure foot­ing. He spe­cifies cap­it­al­ism as “the uni­ver­sal­iz­ing means [he prob­ably means ‘mode’] of pro­duc­tion,” but al­ludes to its his­tor­ic spread across dif­fer­ent geo­graph­ic re­gions to even­tu­ally wrap the whole globe. This sup­posedly ac­counts for the “his­tor­ic­al dif­fer­ence” the­or­ized by post­co­lo­ni­al writers like Dipesh Chakra­barty, the un­sub­lated re­mainder left over by pre­his­tor­ic al­tern­at­ives to prim­it­ive ac­cu­mu­la­tion — a re­mainder which can nev­er be fully in­teg­rated in­to the re­gime of ab­stract labor. Chakra­barty des­ig­nates this the second of “two his­tor­ies of cap­it­al.” Where­as His­tory 1 is “the uni­ver­sal and ne­ces­sary his­tory we as­so­ciate with cap­it­al,” His­tory 2 en­com­passes the par­tic­u­lar and con­tin­gent form­a­tions “en­countered as ante­cedents” by His­tory 1. Marx was too stub­bornly Hegel­i­an for Chakra­barty’s taste, or rather in­suf­fi­ciently Heide­g­geri­an: “In a prop­erly Heide­g­geri­an frame­work… both the present-at-hand and the ready-to-hand re­tain their im­port­ance without gain­ing epi­stem­o­lo­gic­al primacy over the oth­er; His­tory 2 can­not sub­late it­self in­to His­tory 1.”

Gayatri Spivak and Ed­ward Said are more rel­ev­ant ref­er­ences for Mas­sad, but the schem­at­ic dis­tinc­tion between His­tory 1 and His­tory 2 from Pro­vin­cial­iz­ing Europe is in­struct­ive here. Mas­sad’s ar­gu­ment pro­ceeds along es­sen­tially these same lines. “The cat­egor­ies gay and les­bi­an are not uni­ver­sal at all and can only be uni­ver­sal­ized by the epi­stem­ic, eth­ic­al, and polit­ic­al vi­ol­ence un­leashed on the rest of the world by in­ter­na­tion­al hu­man rights ad­voc­ates whose aim is to de­fend the very people their in­ter­ven­tion is cre­at­ing,” he con­ten­ded in De­sir­ing Ar­abs, an­ti­cip­at­ing But­ler’s speech in Ber­lin a couple years later. Against this par­tic­u­lar­ist on­slaught, what hope re­mains for Marx­ist uni­ver­sal­ism?

To an­swer this, the con­nec­tion between cap­it­al­ism and civil­iz­a­tion must be cla­ri­fied.

Structural antisemitism

.
From “Reflections on Left antisemitism”

  1. Opportunistic accusations
  2. Structural antisemitism
  3. Exculpatory anti-Zionism
  4. Zionism, nationalism, and socialism

.
Whether or not the aforementioned remarks were unintentional is of no consequence here. I have no interest in singling out individuals as virulent antisemites, even if a strong case could be made in certain instances. Here larger forces are at work, which operate according to a dynamic the Marxian theorist Moishe Postone has called “structural antisemitism.” Postone provided a fairly succinct definition in an interview with Martin Thomas for the German publication Krisis, distinguishing it from other forms of racism:

It’s true that the Israeli government uses the charge of antisemitism to shield it from criticisms. But that doesn’t mean that antisemitism itself isn’t a serious problem. The way in which antisemitism is distinguished, and should be distinguished, from racism, has to do with the sort of imaginary of power, attributed to the Jews, Zionism, and Israel, which is at the heart of antisemitism. The Jews are seen as constituting an immensely powerful, abstract, intangible global form of power that dominates the world. There is nothing similar to this idea at the heart of other forms of racism. Racism rarely, to the best of my knowledge, constitutes a whole system that seeks to explain the world; whereas antisemitism is a primitive critique of the world of capitalist modernity. The reason I regard it as being particularly dangerous for the Left is precisely because antisemitism has a pseudo-emancipatory dimension that other forms of racism rarely have.

He goes on to explain that “[antisemitism] represents a fetishized form of anticapitalism. That is, the mysterious power of capital — which is intangible, global, and which churns up nations and areas and people’s lives — is attributed to the Jews. The abstract domination of capitalism is personified as the Jews. Antisemitism is thus a revolt against global capital, misrecognized as the Jews.” Marx of course was careful, for all his fulminations against the bourgeoisie, to assign precedence to the impersonal logic of capital over and above its personification in individual capitalists. Capitalists are merely the “character masks” of capital, and are as much subject to its control as the workers they employ (despite enjoying a greater share of the wealth generated by it).

Building on Postone’s argument, as well as the arguments of Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Werner Bonefeld writes: “Modern antisemitism is ‘the rumor about the Jews’ as the incarnation of hated forms of capitalism, which implies that antisemitism expresses resistance to capitalism.” This thesis is not without its problems, of course. For all its faults, however, especially in turning an historical accident of capitalism’s development into a logical necessity, the structural antisemitism argument is generally sound. Just as I would say there structural anti-black racism exists because of the role played by transatlantic slave trade in the colonization of the New World, not to mention its lingering legacy in postbellum labor relations. In other words, there is a logical role each can conveniently play (for historic reasons) in the systemic structure of capitalism.

Leftists often have this delusion where they think anyone who doesn’t simply parrot cable news anchors or political pundits is just an inch away from a comprehensive Systemkritik. Seeing the Illuminati behind everything is supposedly the first step on some inevitable road to a critique of the capitalist totality. Hence the isomorphy between the average “critical” narrative (including most leftist ones) and the antisemitic narrative. Both boil down to a critique of who makes up the management of a social structure — or at best, a critique of the mode of management — rather than a critique of the fundamental social relations themselves. It’s easier to stick with the idea that you just have to weed out “a few bad apples” than it is to tear apart the ideological fabric of everything that surrounds you. Continue reading

Reflections on Left antisemitism

Now also split into four parts, for readability:

  1. Opportunistic accusations
  2. Structural antisemitism
  3. Exculpatory anti-Zionism
  4. Zionism, nationalism, and socialism

.
The furore currently unfolding in Britain over allegations of left antisemitism cannot pass without some comment on my part. Not because I’m Jewish, though I am. And not because I’m an astute observer of British politics, which I’m not. Rather, it’s because the issue arises with such frequency and remains so contentious within the Anglo-American Left, as well as its continental European counterpart. Here I would like to examine the phenomenon more broadly.

Some helpful literature, too, for anyone interested:

  1. Ber Borochev, Class Struggle and the Jewish Nation (1908)
  2. Nobert Elias, “On the Sociology of German Anti-Semitism” (1929)
  3. Max Horkheimer, “The Jews and Europe” (1939)
  4. Jean-Paul Sartre, Anti-Semite and Jew: An Exploration of the Etiology of Hate (1946)
  5. Ernst Simmel, ed., Antisemitism: A Social Disease (1948)
  6. Maxime Rodinson, Cult, Ghetto, and State: The Persistence of the Jewish Question (1981)
  7. Moishe Postone, “Notes on the German Reaction to the Holocaust” (1983)
  8. Enzo Traverso, Understanding the Nazi Genocide: Marxism after Auschwitz (1998)
  9. Mario Kessler, On Anti-Semitism and Socialism: Selected Essays (2005)
  10. Marcel Stoetzler, ed., Antisemitism and the Constitution of Sociology (2014)

.
.

_89499095_metro

Opportunistic accusations

.
First, a few words about the situation in the UK. Over the past couple weeks, a number of prominent Labour Party officials and student activist leaders have come under scrutiny for making antisemitic remarks. Three main figures have been at the center of the controversy so far:

  1. Malia Bouattia
    1. Bouattia, who was recently voted president of the National Union of Students (NUS), took aim at the “Zionist-led media” in 2014 for its sympathetic coverage of Israel during the bombardment and invasion of Gaza earlier that year. Unfortunately, this occurred at an event organized by the Tricontinental Anti-Imperialist Platform to celebrate the Palestinian resistance. A promotional banner with the figure of Hassan Nasrallah emblazoned across it could be seen in the background as she addressed the audience. Nasrallah, general secretary of the Shi’ite paramilitary group Hezbollah in Lebanon, is a notorious antisemite.
    2. Perhaps even more outrageously, Bouattia was almost solely responsible for blocking an NUS motion to condemn ISIS a few weeks later. Such a measure, she contended, was potentially “Islamophobic.” Though an amended version of the motion was eventually passed, this was only after news outlets had got a hold of the story and mocked her mealymouthed prevarications to a fare-thee-well. Roza Salih, the coordinating officer who initiated the proposal, was baffled by Bouattia’s objections. In an interview with Workers Liberty, she voiced her consternation: “I’m extremely disappointed and frustrated…What was Islamophobic about it? I myself come from a Muslim family, and would never propose a motion that was Islamophobic. Either way, it is not Islamophobic to condemn ISIS and its backers!”
    3. Confronted on these issues, Bouattia has proved for the most part evasive. At any rate, she has done little to assuage concerns. “Zio-media” is an epithet that shows up in texts by David Duke and his ilk, and comes much too close to age-old refrains about the Judenpresse for comfort.
  2. Naz Shah
    1. Shah, who unseated the far more objectionable fuckwit George Galloway in the district of Bradford West not twelve months ago, was then discovered to have approvingly shared an offensive image on social media a few months prior to her run for office. Beneath a map of Israel juxtaposed onto a map of the United States, a series of bullet points suggesting that conflict in the Middle East might be resolved by deporting Israeli Jews to the US en masse. (Galloway’s claim that “the Zionist movement from Tel Aviv to New York” would rejoice at her election appears all the more absurd in retrospect).
    2. Around the same time, Shah also urged her friends to get out to the polls since “the Jews are rallying.” Many have noted how similar this statement is to Netanyahu’s bit about how “the Arabs are voting in droves,” spurring Jewish voters to turn out.
    3. To her credit, Shah has apologized unreservedly for her 2014 posts. I’m not too big on the whole culture of heartfelt apologies followed by public self-criticism, but she’s at least remained tactful and reserved throughout the media shitstorm of the past couple weeks. Which is more than can be said for some who have come to her defense. Enter now the former mayor of London.
  3. Ken Livingstone
    1. Livingstone is low-hanging fruit by anyone’s estimation. Back in 2005 he compared Oliver Finegold, a journalist for the Evening Sun, to a Nazi concentration camp guard after learning he was Jewish. “You are just like a concentration camp guard,” declared Livingstone. “Only doing it because you’re paid to, right?” The Evening Sun may be a right-wing rag, but that’s really not the point. Directing such a remark at a Jewish news reporter is insensitive no matter who that person works for.
    2. Fast-forward to 2016: Livingstone takes it upon himself to come to Shah’s rescue, despite the fact she was handling the matter quite well on her own. Almost immediately he makes everything worse: “When Hitler won the election in 1932, his policy was that Jews should be moved to Israel. Hitler supported Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.” Never mind the fact that in 1932, Israel did not yet exist. Palestine didn’t even exist, in the sense of a free and autonomous state. There was only the Palestinian mandate, which was under British rule at the time. Generally speaking, as Sam Kriss has pointed out, something like Godwin’s Law should apply in contemporary discussions about Israel. Yes, the temptation the establish a “cruel historical irony” in terms of Zionism’s relationship to Nazism may seem irresistible at times, rhetorically speaking, but it’s still fucking stupid.
    3. In the days that have passed since committing this gaffe, Livingstone has somehow managed to dig himself deeper. Corbyn wisely decided to suspend Livingstone, as that kind of liability was the last thing he or Labour needed right now. Questioned about his suspension, Livingstone likened accusations of antisemitism made against him to false accusations of rape. He then went on to grant a radio interview where he apologized for his poor timing, and the disruption it caused. But he would not apologize for what he actually said, since it was supposedly a statement of fact. Livingstone even appealed to the authority of the American Trotskyist Lenni Brenner, discussed later, to bolster his claims. (Incidentally, as Bob from Brockley points out, Livingstone takes liberties with Brenner’s arguments).

Obviously it is no coincidence that these charges are being leveled at the Corbynite wing of the Labour Party with local elections on May 5 around the corner. Especially in the case of Naz Shah, whose term in office has been fairly uneventful up to now. Last year Shah even came out in support of Yvette Cooper, a staunchly pro-Israel candidate, something which at least ought to complicate the picture of her currently being drawn. Right-wing opportunism is nothing new, however, both on the part of the Tories and butthurt Blairites within the Labour Party, whose neoliberal legacy seems threatened by the sudden rise of Corbyn. A great deal of the outrage expressed so far has been cynical, all the more so when one recalls the antisemitic imagery The Sun deployed last year against Ed Miliband’s doomed campaign.

It is therefore important to recognize the politically-motivated character of these attacks, and stand with Bouattia and Shah against slurs, lies, and innuendo from the Right, even as we continue to criticize them from the Left. Bouattia in particular ought not be made immune to criticism, as the residual Stalinism of her positions has already been noted by Daniel Cooper. Shah cannot really be considered a leftist at all, more a liberal than anything else. Livingstone is someone I could more or less do without. He is an embarrassment. The one and only good thing that could come of this debacle, as Alan Johnson writes in Ha’aretz, is the prospect of his replacement by Sadiq Khan in the London mayoral race. (Hat-tip goes out to Michael Gaul and Elena Louisa Lange for sharing this article). Continue reading