Antisemitism as a “blindspot” for the Left

Why anyone would want to support Jeremy Corbyn or join the Labour Party is beyond me. I don’t live in Great Britain, so at least I’m spared that grim imperative. From what I’m told, spontaneous adulation for “Jez” and “the absolute boy” broke out on the floor of the DSA convention this last year. A strange occurrence, considering that Corbyn has nothing whatsoever to do with the American political system. He was seen as the limey equivalent to Bernie Sanders’ insurgent candidacy in 2016, so I guess it makes some sense.

Still, since the subject keeps coming up, I might as well address the recurring charge of “antisemitism” that’s been leveled at Corbyn’s Labour. Many of his supporters reflexively suspect this is another attempted coup, an effort by the old Blairite wing of the Party to topple its Corbynite adversary and thereby reassert its dominance. Unfortunately, there’s a very good chance that this is indeed the case. This is unfortunate because antisemitism is a real blindspot for many on the Left, one which is only further occluded by cynical allegations.

Let me lay my cards on the table: I don’t think that Corbyn is a hardened antisemite or anything like that. Efforts to portray him as such are in my opinion transparently opportunistic. Yet again, this is a manufactured scandal resuscitated several years after the fact for political gain. Worst of all, this is leading people to dislike Corbyn for the wrong reasons. Jez sucks not because he’s “the absolute goy,” as some have pithily put it, but because he’s a milquetoast reformist leading a bourgeois political party, who wants to put more cops on the street and complains that foreigners are stealing British jobs.

One can make casually antisemitic, racist, or sexist comments, though, without necessarily being an ideologically committed antisemite, racist, or sexist. This is really the crucial takeaway from theories of structural antisemitism, racism, or sexism. In other words, these ideologies don’t rely on self-consciously antisemitic, racist, or sexist agents or individuals in order to be reproduced societally at an unconscious level.

Pseudo-emancipatory character

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Racist ideologies typically employ a double-operation with regard to those they deem parasitic upon the greater social body. In contrast to the broad masses of society (e.g., “ordinary hardworking Americans,” a codeword for the predominantly WASPish working class) there is a lower and an upper stratum of parasites. Whereas the lower stratum includes supposed inferiors — i.e., illegal immigrants, “welfare queens,” and so on, who leech off of the surplus wealth generated by industrious individuals — the upper stratum covers supposed elites — i.e., globalists, Jews, and banksters, who surreptitiously rob honest workers through financial speculation or manipulate them with their control of the media.

Moishe Postone, the late theorist of structural antisemitism, argued that it possesses a peculiar quality compared to other racist ideologies. Impersonal aspects of the capitalist social order are identified with the person of the Jew, who for historically contingent reasons fulfills a logically necessary function of capitalism. A faceless and anonymous form of domination is given both a face and a name. For this reason, Postone maintained that “antisemitism has a pseudo-emancipatory dimension other forms of racism rarely have… Racism is rarely a danger for the left. While the Left has to be careful not to be racist, it isn’t an ongoing danger because racism doesn’t have the apparent emancipatory dimension of anti-semitism.” Continue reading

No tears for tankies

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Amber A’Lee Frost had an article published on The Baffler yesterday, “Flakes alive! On not attending the Left Forum.” It is, among other things, a hilarious send-up of the weird, wacky, and hopelessly insular world of fringe leftist subcultures. Plus, it’s extremely well written, so I highly recommend that everyone read it.

Not everyone was pleased by Frost’s various jabs at “tankies, truthers, and tofu,” however. Unsurprisingly, her piece managed to ruffle a few feathers.  Some of the responses have been a bit more measured. Others, who were the butt of her jokes, were predictably a little less kind. But nowhere has the backlash been worse than on Stalinist Twitter: a peculiar mélange of social justice paraphernalia, Komsomol Manga, and Red Army porn. Edgy conspiracy theories — debunking the misinformation spread by the “mainstream media,” exposing government infiltrators and agents provocateurs, flagging “false flag” operations by imperialist powers — are also common in this milieu.

I know what you’re thinking. “Stalinist Twitter?” you’ll ask yourself, incredulously. “That can’t be real.”

Were that it wasn’t. Yes, it’s a real thing. And to those of you who don’t believe me, I invite you to dip your toe into the tepid kiddie-pool that is the tankie Twitterverse. For most reasonably well-adjusted people, it’s “an absolute shitshow of nerds and social rejects,” as Amber accurately put it. Reader discretion is advised, however. It’s not exactly the most enlightening experience out there, but at the very least it makes for some good entertainment. Welcome to the leper colony that is the contemporary Left.

Briefly, a word on the provenance and history of the term “tankie,” for the uninitiated. Amber’s definition — “slang for Soviet apologist, or actual Stalinist” — is serviceable, but rather imprecise. “Tankie” was an epithet coined on the British left several decades ago to denote anyone who still supported the Kremlin line after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. Khrushchev had delivered his so-called “secret speech” on Stalin’s cult of personality and its consequences earlier in the year, but the tanks rolling into Budapest signaled a quite obvious return to form.

So to be clear, the term isn’t necessarily anti-Marxist or anti-communist: it’s anti-Stalinist, and anti-Maoist insofar as Mao continued to defend and draw upon Stalin’s legacy. For Marxists like me, or indeed anyone of a more Trotskyist or left communist persuasion, the term is inoffensive. The same goes for nondenominational socialists like Amber, whose membership in the DSA is openly admitted in her article (though Frost’s critics continue to point this out as if it’s some earth-shattering revelation). Personally, I have my issues with the DSA’s mild-mannered Menshevism and tailing of Bernie Sanders. But compared to the old guard Stalinists in the CP-USA, who’ve backed the Democrats in every major national election since the seventies, DSA cadre end up looking like urban guerrillas. Don’t forget that Lenin, too, was for most of his political career a Social Democrat.

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I feel it is necessary to point this out, since some self-proclaimed Stalinists have expressed consternation and confusion over the “tankie” label. One young member of the Stalinist Twitter crowd has even gone so far as to suggest that the term “increasingly [just] means ‘principled anti-imperialist’.” Maybe so, if anti-imperialism means mindlessly boosting Putin, Assad, and the late Colonel Gaddafi against local insurrections of various ideological flavors. But I’ve opposed every U.S. military intervention during my lifetime, without at the same time lending support to tin-pot dictators and their henchmen who proclaim themselves “anti-imperialists.” So what would I know about anti-imperialism?

Anyway, it’s not as if they don’t resort to petty name-calling themselves. The Twitter Stalinists seem to oscillate wildly between Third Period-style accusations of “social fascism” (whereby any socialist or communist who disagrees with them is immediately branded “no better” than fascists) and Dmitrov-era popfront calls for unity and discipline (so as to keep up comradely appearances, or else rationalize coalitions with reactionary religious groups). Moreover, it’s hard not to laugh at all the tankie tears shed about being “purged,” considering their continued outspoken admiration for Stalin, who had more communists killed and imprisoned than any right-wing, red-baiting American politician. And when these Twitter Stalinists worry about being “purged,” what they really mean is they fear their panels won’t pass muster and be accepted. Not purged in the time-tested tankie sense of a show trial in front of Yezhov or Beria, followed by either an NKVD bullet to the back of the head or decades of frostbitten exile in some remote corner of the GULag archipelago.

Queen tankie Molly Klein — a fabulously rich heiress who grew up next to the Toscanini mansion on Wave Hill, daughter of the dude who invented PlayboyTV — routinely smears anyone who crosses her as “racist,” including the young black DSA member, Douglas Williams. Klein, alias RedKahina and numerous other sock-puppet accounts and anonymous online handles, has charged me on multiple occasions with antisemitism and antiziganism, despite my own Jewish and Roma ancestry. Now that Amber dared to make fun of her paranoiac panel from last year, accusing the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek of being a CIA plant and psyop, they’ve begun making borderline misogynist remarks like “Amber Frost has to be a porn name” and “yuk, Frost wanders through the Left Forum like a dog with her tongue out thinking ‘whose leg can I hump?’.” Tarzie, the self-described “rancid honeytrap,” hoped that Amber would be hit by a bus. Charming lot, truly. Continue reading