Class, segmentation, racialization: Reading notes

Théorie Communiste
Lucha No Feik Club
(October 26, 2016)

Editorial note

Ori­gin­ally pub­lished by Théorie Com­mun­iste as «Classe/seg­men­ta­tion/raci­sa­tion. Notes». Trans­lated from the French by LNFC, with sub­stan­tial re­vi­sions by Ross Wolfe. I can’t take cred­it for the ma­jor­ity of this trans­la­tion, as I worked from the one pos­ted by the Lucha No Feik Club. Nev­er­the­less, I found this trans­la­tion al­most un­read­able, and so de­cided to go over it again with my (ad­mit­tedly quite poor) French and make some modi­fic­a­tions. Right now it’s prob­ably still un­read­able, but hope­fully a little less so. Just to point out some of my own ed­its, and give a sense of my reas­ons for mak­ing them, a few words might be ad­ded here. For ex­ample, I changed cho­si­fiée from “thingi­fied” to “re­ified.” Un­doubtedly the former is used from time to time, but it comes across here as clunky and in­el­eg­ant. Also, I rendered face à face as “faceoff,” rather than the dread­fully lit­er­al “face-to-face.” Vari­ous oth­er minor cor­rec­tions were made, some of them slight over­sights. Part of the prob­lem is in the ori­gin­al text, however, as there are a couple places where there are word-for-word re­pe­ti­tions of en­tire sen­tences. These were no doubt un­in­ten­tion­al, and have been ex­cised from the present ver­sion.

As re­gards the con­tent, I am quite in­ter­ested in see­ing how Théorie Com­mun­iste relates the phe­nomen­on of “ra­cial­iz­a­tion” [raci­sa­tion] to the struc­tur­al lo­gic of cap­it­al and its his­tor­ic un­fold­ing. Clearly, the art­icle takes race to be a more ar­bit­rary con­struc­tion than gender. Gender is rooted in the sexu­al di­vi­sion of labor with­in the oikos, wherein the fam­ily is the fun­da­ment­al eco­nom­ic unit. There are more bio­lo­gic­al de­term­in­ants for gender, at least ini­tially. Some of this is sketched out in an­oth­er short art­icle pub­lished by Théorie Com­mun­iste, “Uter­us vs. Melan­in,” which as yet re­mains un­trans­lated. However, while race is more re­cent and based on ac­ci­dent­al fea­tures, it is no less real than gender. Théorie Com­mun­iste loc­ates ra­cial­iz­a­tion with­in the seg­ment­a­tion of the work­force, where su­per­fi­cial dis­tinc­tions such as skin col­or and dif­fi­culties of com­mu­nic­a­tion (mul­tiple lan­guages, etc.) be­come mark­ers of dif­fer­ence. Deni­al of these dif­fer­ences, in the name of some norm­at­ive ideal of what class should be, is sharply cri­ti­cized for ig­nor­ing the seg­men­ted real­ity of so­cial­ized labor. Loren Gold­ner put this quite nicely a while back, when he wrote that “the ‘col­orblind’ Marx­ism of many left com­mun­ist cur­rents — a pro­let­ari­an is a pro­let­ari­an is a pro­let­ari­an — is simply… blind Marx­ism.”

Of course, race does not op­er­ate every­where uni­formly. It doesn’t al­ways fall along a col­or spec­trum run­ning from “white” to “black.” To be sure, the leg­acy of ra­cial­ized slavery in the United States over­shad­ows most oth­er his­tor­ic­al de­term­in­a­tions of race. But xeno­pho­bia to­ward vari­ous poor im­mig­rant groups — the Ir­ish in the 1850s, the Chinese in the early 1900s, Itali­ans in the 1920s-1930s, Lati­nos today — also plays a ma­jor role. Para­noia about Is­lam also in­forms a great deal of the hate­ful rhet­or­ic we’ve seen spouted against refugees since 2001. An­ti­semit­ism is less pro­nounced in the United States than in con­tin­ent­al Europe, cer­tainly, but it’s not al­to­geth­er un­known. Ra­cial dy­nam­ics work them­selves out a bit dif­fer­ently in France, with its his­tory of co­lo­ni­al­ism. However, I’m heartened to read that Théorie Com­mun­iste has no pa­tience for the re­ac­tion­ary polit­ics of race peddled by groups like the Parti des indigènes de la République and its lead­er, Houria Bouteldja. Roughly two years ago I cri­ti­cized the cul­tur­al re­lativ­ism of this par­tic­u­lar group, which per­vades de­co­lo­ni­al dis­course in gen­er­al, its “tac­tic­al ho­mo­pho­bia” and “lat­ent an­ti­semit­ism” (as the fol­low­ing art­icle puts it). Later I re­pos­ted an ex­cel­lent piece writ­ten by Ma­lika Amaouche, Yas­mine Kateb, and Léa Nic­olas-Te­boul.. «Classe/seg­men­ta­tion/raci­sa­tion» lam­bastes the PIR, who Théorie Com­mun­iste calls the “en­tre­pren­eurs of ra­cial­iz­a­tion.” I don’t blame Bouteldja et al. for pur­su­ing this en­ter­prise, though; someone had to tap the mar­ket left un­touched by Bloc Iden­titaire.

There has al­ways been seg­ment­a­tion with­in labor power. We must take it, then, as an ob­ject­ive de­term­in­a­tion of labor power un­der cap­it­al that nat­ur­ally leads to a di­vi­sion of labor. Here we have noth­ing more than a di­vide between a ho­mo­gen­eous ma­ter­i­al and a simple quant­it­at­ive grad­a­tion of the value of labor power. (Both simple and com­plex work un­der­go a kind of os­mos­is with­in the cap­it­al­ist mode of pro­duc­tion, from the gen­er­al­ized con­straint of sur­plus labor to spe­cial­ized labor un­der co­oper­at­ive man­age­ment, etc.). However, this seg­ment­a­tion would not be so if it were not but a qual­it­at­ive di­vide with­in an oth­er­wise ho­mo­gen­eous ma­ter­i­al. Two pro­cesses in­ter­vene as they weave to­geth­er: On the one hand the cap­it­al­ist mode of pro­duc­tion is glob­al, cap­able of ap­pro­pri­at­ing and des­troy­ing all oth­er modes of pro­duc­tion while con­serving for it­self the char­ac­ter­ist­ics of those it has re­defined. On the oth­er hand the value of labor power rep­res­ents a mor­al, cul­tur­al, and his­tor­ic­al com­pon­ent. Since cap­it­al­ist ex­ploit­a­tion is uni­ver­sal — i.e., be­cause cap­it­al can take over oth­er modes of pro­duc­tion or make them co­ex­ist along­side it, ex­ploit labor power to­geth­er with those oth­er modes or de­tach them from their former ex­ist­en­tial con­di­tions — cap­it­al­ism is thus an his­tor­ic­al con­struc­tion that brings about the co­ex­ist­ence of all the dif­fer­ent strata of his­tory in a single mo­ment. Seg­ment­a­tion is not merely “ma­nip­u­la­tion.” It ex­ists as the vol­un­tary activ­ity of the cap­it­al­ist class and its pro­fes­sion­al ideo­logues, which forms and an­im­ates an ob­ject­ive pro­cess, a struc­tur­al de­term­in­a­tion of the mode of pro­duc­tion.

If the work­ing class has al­ways been seg­men­ted, it is still ne­ces­sary to con­tex­tu­al­ize this seg­ment­a­tion. That is to say, it must be situ­ated in the gen­er­al form of the con­tra­dic­tion between pro­let­ari­at and cap­it­al with­in a giv­en cycle of struggles. Without this, the op­pos­i­tion to iden­tit­ies — iden­tit­ies wrongly as­so­ci­ated with com­munit­ies — would be solely norm­at­ive. Even if we were to con­fer great cir­cum­stan­tial im­port­ance on this seg­ment­a­tion, its be­ing lies else­where, with­in a pur­ity that is either ac­cess­ible or not. We do not es­cape the mutually ex­clus­ive op­pos­i­tion to iden­tit­ies simply by pit­ting what is against what should be.

Re­gard­ing the re­la­tion between seg­ment­a­tion and ra­cial­iz­a­tion [raci­sa­tion], there ex­ist two uni­lat­er­al stances fa­cing one an­oth­er. Ac­cord­ing to the first, ma­ter­i­al­ism boils down to re­du­cing iden­tity to its found­a­tion — without tak­ing its ef­fect­ive­ness or its lo­gic in­to ac­count. The second, equally ma­ter­i­al­ist stance but­tresses it­self on a re­fus­al to con­sider the facts. It says that if ra­cial­ identity is reduced in toto to its found­a­tion, it’s noth­ing but an arbitrary [volon­taire] and det­ri­ment­al con­struct. Hence, those who turn it in­to an ob­ject merely di­vide the class and pro­mote bar­bar­ism. (I’m hardly dis­tort­ing their po­s­i­tion). What always es­capes both of these stances is the ques­tion of ideo­logy, which is not a re­flec­tion [of the base] but an en­semble of prac­tic­al and be­liev­able re­sponses. Beneath these operate cer­tain prac­tices. Iden­tity comes in­to be­ing wherever there is a sep­ar­a­tion and auto­nom­iz­a­tion of a proper sphere of activ­ity. Each identity or ideo­logy — in the sense of the term em­ployed here — has its own his­tory and mod­us op­erandi, which can be ascertained with reference to the prac­tices op­er­at­ing be­neath the ideo­logy in ques­tion. Iden­tity is therefore an es­sen­tial­iz­a­tion which defines an in­di­vidu­al as a sub­ject.

A norm­at­ive deni­al of ra­cial­ized seg­ment­a­tion does not seek con­tra­dic­tions with­in that which ex­ists, but is rather content to po­s­ition it­self in con­tra­dic­tion to that which ex­ists: class against its seg­ment­a­tion, without con­sid­er­ing that class only ex­ists with­in this seg­ment­a­tion (i.e., with­in the con­tra­dic­tion of pro­let­ari­at and cap­it­al that provides for its re­pro­duc­tion). Norm­at­ive op­pos­i­tion to the real seg­ment­a­tion of the pro­let­ari­at leads to an ideo­lo­gic­al ec­lipse of this real­ity — something the Parti des indigènes de la République [PIR] does in­versely, in its own way. 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

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

Anatomy of a controversy

Race, religion, and ideology
in contemporary debates on
the French communist Left

How to moralize with a sledgehammer

On the night of April 21, 2016, the windows of an anarchist library and bookshop in Paris were smashed with a sledgehammer. Above the broken glass, next to hollowed-out frames, one word had been spraypainted: RACIST. This was the third such attack to take place at the location in under a year. La Discordia opened its doors back in May 2015 to provide a space for discussion, theory, and debate. “Discord is profound disagreement,” reads La Discordia’s founding charter, “violent dissent which sets people against each other.” So it would seem to be living up to its stated mission, if repeated acts of vandalism are any indication. What’s odd about these incidents, though, is that La Discordia wasn’t targeted by right-wing thugs or fascists — the usual suspects whenever anarchists receive threats of this sort — but rather by other anarchists. It wasn’t the work of national-anarchists, either, but those professing a decolonial brand of anarchism. Yves Coleman, who serves as correspondent for the left communist periodical Insurgent Notes in France, characterized the hoodlums as “left identitarians [identitaires de gauche], social chauvinists, and assorted Third Worldists.” Magazin Redaktion, the German-language Turkish collective, wrote that “La Discordia and the friendly associated website non fides have lately been exposed to a certain hostility and multiple threats; among other things, the store was recently defaced… by fractions of the ‘antiauthoritarian’ scene [die Teilen der ‚antiautoritären’ Szene] with slogans calling it ‘fascist’ and ‘racist’.”

How does anybody know who carried out this act of petty property destruction? Clearly, the volunteers who run La Discordia suspect it was a crude attempt at intimidation. Nevertheless, protests and street demonstrations have occurred on an almost nightly basis in Paris, and throughout the country, since roughly the beginning of April. Up All Night [Nuit debout] debuted on March 31, to drum up public opposition to the hated loi du travail, so it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the library might have suffered incidental damage in the confusion. “Why is this happening right now, while we are all concentrated on what is going on in the streets?” asked the Discordians in their official statement on the matter. “Evidently because, for those who hold race and religion sacrosanct, it’s more important to defend these things than to combat capital and state. Again, no other sign of attack was to be seen in the neighborhood that night, neither banks nor churches nor the premises of political parties. Just an anarchist library.” Back in February, right after the initial attack, Dialectical Delinquents published a letter of solidarity with La Discordia:

Several months in the planning, a debate on “Islamophobia: A Conceptual and Political Racket” was finally held January 26. La Discordia wanted to confront a topic at the heart of the current struggles, conflating condemnation of racism with a defense of religion. Our joint conversations were interesting. More than sixty comrades came to the event — we promise to rent a larger venue next time, and with more chairs! — demonstrating that many feel the need for a revolutionary critique of religion. Every religion, including Islam, which others would like to palm off as the “religion of the oppressed”…

Upon arriving Tuesday afternoon, we saw that the storefront had been tagged during the night. Poorly-written, ill-thought-out epithets (“fascists,” “racists,” etc.) appeared next to circled As (thank you!) in black spray paint, along with a leaflet of demands. We were allegedly acting as a vehicle for “Islamophobic and racist theories” and “ideologies of power,” etc. A thought for the atheist “fascists,” the unbelievers who from Tehran to Saint-Denis are now treated as “Islamophobic” as much by fearsome powers as by this arriviste of the French academic petit bourgeois who knows only the racism of his own class, whose only practice over a decade is to leave illegible tags on anarchist libraries and organize conferences with religious authorities.

Dialectical Delinquents’ declaration of support was succeeded by a similarly sympathetic note from the editors of the anarchist street paper Paris Sous Tension, posted on Indymedia Nantes right after the first attack and updated in March after the second. “In striving to make sense of this gesture, committed by purported anarchists (as they claimed to be in the message they left), …we see that its only purpose is to empty anarchism of any anti-religious content,” they wrote. “The revolt against religious dogma… has always been a part of revolutionary criticism, here in Europe and the rest of the world, where a great many atheists, blasphemers, revolutionaries, ‘freethinkers,’ and simple nonconformists face ferocious repression on the part of divine spokespersons… We’d like to publicly express our support for the comrades at La Discordia against this imbecilic and gross manifestation of the… ‘convergence’ between politicians of the extreme left and reactionary Islamists.” Barely an hour had passed before angry commenters were accusing La Discordia and its sympathizers of “justifying and rationalizing Islamophobia.” Not long after, another threatened: “Come the revolution the monks of atheism [les religieux de l’atheisme] will be gunned down.” Yet the coup de grâce was delivered by somebody named “Patlotch,” who accused an old left communist internationalist [vieux sympathisant de la gauche communiste internationaliste] of Eurocentrism. About this Patlotch, we’ll hear more later. La Discordia vowed to continue cursing “the confused pseudo-radicals and theo-compatibles” [les pseudo-radicaux confus et théo-compatibles], reciting some of the lines to La père Duschesne, an anonymous ode to Hébert that the anarchist Ravachol sang on his way to the guillotine in 1892: “Cut the priests in two, bloody hell / Tear the churches to the ground, blood of God / And good Lord in the shit, bloody hell!” [«Coupe les curés en deux, Nom de Dieu / Fout les églises par terre, Sang Dieu / Et l’bon dieu dans la merde, Nom de Dieu!»]

Each of these two letters of solidarity echoes the event description for «Islamophobie: du racket conceptuel au racket politique», from the talk in January. “Numerous so-called ‘revolutionaries’ seek to reappropriate the concept [of Islamophobia], and thereby develop a blindness to the authoritarian and pacifying role played by every religion,” the promotional post states. “Islam is wrongly defended as the religion of the oppressed (as Irish Catholicism and Tibetan Buddhism were before it). Behind this lurks the idea that relations of domination become emancipatory when borne by those who are supposedly oppressed. Religion remains a major obstacle to those looking to radically transform the world, however, and so criticism is necessary now more than ever. For there are no ‘religions of the oppressed,’ only religions that oppress.” Who would actually try to claim Islam is anywhere the “religion of the oppressed,” much less on a global scale? At first this sounds like a straw-man. Mahmoud Senadji of the Parti des Indigènes de la République wrote an essay in 2009 on Iran and Foucault in which he asserted Islam alone had the capacity to serve as a medium for revolution, “Islam being the religion of the oppressed” [l’islam étant la religion des opprimés]. (The Indigènes are big fans of Kevin Anderson’s book Marx at the Margins, which is admittedly quite good, but the reason they like it is that it seems to validate their own preexisting views. Or rather, it presents a reading of Marx more amenable to their politics. How surprised they’d be if they ever took a look at the study Anderson wrote along with Janet Afary in 2005, Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seduction of Islamism). 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.

Exculpatory anti-Zionism

From “Reflections on Left antisemitism”

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

Overt antisemitism on the Left is rare. When antisemitic rhetoric does occur, it is seldom obvious. It tends to be masked in more or less subtle ways. Matters are not made easier by Israel’s claim to represent and act on behalf of Jews throughout the world, of course. Yet antisemitism and anti-Zionism are clearly not identical. Some criticisms of Israel may be driven by antipathy toward the Jews, a false projection of alienated social power, but by no means all. How, then, can one distinguish antisemitic from non-antisemitic opposition to a nominally Jewish state? A fairly reliable acid test is to check whether a given statement about Zionism or Israel incorporates ideological elements from classical antisemitism. Just minus the whole bit about “the Jews,” usually, as these days such talk is seen as bad form. The old ideologemes and tropes are readily repackaged, however, given new anti-Zionist wrapping — the same content in a different form. By slightly modifying their terminology and diction, antisemites hope that no one will take notice.

CounterPunch is a particularly egregious case of an online platform where antisemitic rot is often passed off as anti-Zionist critique. Nominally leftist, the publication still claims a wide readership. Authors like Ian Donovan, Israel Shamir, Gilad Atzmon, and Alison Weir all have articles up over at CounterPunch’s website. Donovan is known for his “Draft Theses on the Jews and Modern Imperialism,” which contains such gems as the following: “Jews are not a nation, but there is a pan-national bourgeoisie with national aspirations… which wants a territorial asset [Israel].” Like Donovan, Atzmon believes Jews have infiltrated the governments of major world powers in order to advance Israel’s agenda. He thus refers to Corbyn’s party as “Zionist occupied territory,” and counterintuitively accepts the premise that Labour has a “Jewish problem.” Only it’s not the one everyone thinks it is, as Atzmon affirms “Yes, Indeed, Labour has a Jewish Problem: It is Dominated by Zionist Oligarchs.” Shamir goes a bit further than either Donovan or Atzmon on this score, however. Israel is just the beginning, says Shamir, part of a larger plan to achieve global domination. When he’s not penning paeans to Pol-Pot, then, Shamir therefore maintains: “Palestine is not the ultimate goal of the Jews; the world is.” Numerous antisemitic motifs can be identified in these passages, paranoid delusions about Zionist-Occupied Governments (ZOG) and an elaborate international, multi-generational plot to ensure Jewish hegemony.

Alison Weir is (in)famous for her groundless conjectures about “Israeli Organ Harvesting,” based on the widely discredited journalism of Daniel Boström for the Swedish periodical Aftonbladet. Of course, Aftonbladet is hardly a reputable source of information. The journal supported the Nazi occupation during World War II, and degenerated into tabloid reporting several decades later. Netanyahu nevertheless decided to take Boström’s article, buried in the back pages of an obscure paper, and turn it into a diplomatic incident. Demanding  the government of Sweden confiscate all physical copies of the paper, delete it from the web, and issue a formal apology, Bibi thrust a wild story based on rumor and hearsay in front of the media spotlight (while also haplessly making it an issue of free speech). Undeterred by the dubious authenticity of the original piece, Weir confidently reported: “Testimony and circumstantial evidence indicate that Israeli doctors have been harvesting internal organs from Palestinian prisoners without consent for years… Some of the information suggests that in several instances Palestinians may have been captured with this macabre purpose in mind.” Just three days later, CounterPunch ran a follow-up piece by Bouthaina Shaaban, media advisor to the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Here the grisly charge of “body-snatching” was again repeated, this time as a fact. “Israeli occupation forces [are] killing Palestinians with the objective of stealing their organs,” she asserted. Even Boström, who broke the story back in 2009, himself confessed to having no proof of the claims covered therein. Personally, he seemed to doubt their veracity. “Whether it’s true or not — I have no idea, no clue.” Boström’s visit to the country that December, attending a conference in Jerusalem, led him to have second thoughts about his decision to publish unsubstantiated gossip: “[My] visit to Israel, and the fact that I was part of a fair dialogue, made me rethink the whole issue.” Regardless, much of the outrage over the article can be explained by the parallels between accusations that Israeli doctors stole organs to save the lives of patients back home and the blood libel, according to which Jews stole the blood of Gentile children in order to revitalize themselves. George Galloway then helpfully chimed in that “Israel is playing mini-Mengele.”

Yet another jaw-dropping instance of throwback antisemitism appeared on CounterPunch as recently as last week. It was disguised — though just barely — as anti-Zionism. Anyone familiar with the history of antisemitic symbolism could easily pick up on them, however. Greg Felton, an investigative journalist and author specializing in international affairs and the Middle East, explained American foreign policy in a since-deleted article: “In my book The Host and The Parasite: How Israel’s Fifth Column Consumed America, I demonstrated that the US government has been fascist or proto-fascist for more than 30 years. This fascism has been predominantly Jewish. From Harry Truman to George W. Bush, the US has gone through six stages of increasing fascism called Zionization.” Fifth column? Jewish fascism? Parasitism on an otherwise healthy host? One of the most incendiary accusations leveled against the Jews in interwar Germany was that they somehow constituted a “fifth column” undermining the war effort. Despite the many medals for bravery and courage awarded to Jewish soldiers who served in the German army, the Jews were collectively blamed for the country’s defeat. Never mind imagery depicting the Jew as a “parasite,” the embodiment of finance capital, profiting off of the productive labor of others while producing nothing themselves. Honestly, I am not sure why Felton’s article disappeared. Looking at some of the other material that’s up on CounterPunch, this kind of drivel is fairly standard. Continue reading

Parti des Indigènes de la République: “Zionists to the GULag!”

The left-wing political scientist  Thomas Guénolé  recently (18th March) rowed with the spokesperson of the Parti des Indigènes de la République, Houria Bouteldja on the French television (France 2) program, “Ce soir (ou jamais !)” sur France 2 (Atlantico). He took out a photo of her posing with the slogan, “Zionists to the Gulag” [« Sionistes au goulag »]. A note which then adds: “Peace, but gulag even so” [« Peace, mais goulag quand même »].

Some other choice quotations he pulled from Bouteldja are also worth noting. Regarding rapes that take place in the banlieue: “If a black women is raped by a black man, it’s right that she does not go to the police in order to protect the black community” [« si une femme noire se fait violer par un homme noire, il est légitime qu’elle ne porte pas plainte pour protéger la communauté noire »]. On gays:  “Everybody knows that a poof is not completely a man, since the Arab who loses his potency is no longer a man” [« comme chacun sait, la tarlouze n’est pas tout à fait un homme. l’arabe qui perd sa puissance virile n’est plus un homme »].

Bouteldja’s reply was to state that she couldn’t give a toss what Guénolé thought, and that his basic accusation against her was that she was not white.

Now it is time to return to a critical examination of the ideas of this person and her group.

Houria Bouteldja, or rather “the excellent  Houria Bouteldja” (as Richard Seymour calls her here), is the spokesperson for the Parti des Indigènes de la République [PIR]. She is known to the American left from the reprinting of their statements by the International Socialist Organization,  and a star article with Malik Tahar Chaouch translated as  “The Unity Trap” in the oddly-named journal Jacobin, which claims to be “reason in revolt.”

The PIR, which opposes “race-mixing” and attacks the supposed “philo-Semitism” of the French state, among many other criticisms of “Jews” and  “Zionists” has also received a respectful audience in Britain, including a blog and  billing at meetings of the Islamic Human Right Commission. Verso has published a translation criticizing French secularism by one of the Indigènes’ prominent “white” supporters, the former leftist and self-styled feminist Christine Delphy.

Rumors that an English version of Les Blancs, les Juifs, et nous  is in preparation at Verso, with an introduction by Ian Donovan, have been strongly denied. A review of the book in French has already appeared written by the Tiqqun-affiliated author Ivan Segré, «Une indigène au visage pâle: Houria Bouteldja, Les Blancs, les Juifs et nous: Vers une politique de l’amour révolutionnaire». This is not a translation of Segré’s tonic review of Bouteldja but a discussion of some key points. The article begins with a summary of the authoress’ views which will perhaps explain that the prospect of a full account of the text — after all a honest attempt to make intelligible a picture of the world that bears comparison with such landmark thinkers as David Icke — would be hard to accomplish. But we salute comrade Sergé for having waded through this singular oeuvre. This is just to make known to an English speaking audience some of his main points

Continue reading

Toward a materialist approach to the question of race: A response to the Indigènes de la République

The Charnel-House

A few months ago, I wrote up a critique of the “decolonial dead end” arrived at by groups like the Indigènes de la République. Despite being welcomed in some quarters of the Left, wearied by the controversy stirred up after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, it was not well received by others. Last month, however, a French comrade alerted me to the publication of a similar, but much more detailed and carefully argued, piece criticizing Bouteldja & co. in Vacarne. I even asked a friend to translate it for the new left communist publication Ritual. But before he could complete it, someone describing himself as “a long-time reader/appreciator of The Charnel-House” contacted me to let me know he’d just finished rendering it into English.

The authors of the original piece — Malika Amaouche, Yasmine Kateb, and Léa Nicolas-Teboul — all belong to the French ultraleft, militant feminists and communists active in different groups. I am grateful they brought up the PIR’s execrable position opposing intermarriage and submitted it to ruthless criticism, offering a Wertkritik-inspired analysis of some antisemitic tropes reproduced by the self-proclaimed Indigènes. Regarding the provenance of “philosemitism,” a concept employed by Bouteldja which the authors critique: the term was invented by antisemites during the nineteenth century, as a reproach to supposed “Jew-lovers.” Not a title that would be claimed by those who were themselves sympathetic to the plight of Jews in Europe and elsewhere.

Translator’s introduction

The following text, a critique of the Parti des Indigènes de la République by three of its former members, originally appeared in the French journal Vacarme. A radical anti-colonial party, Parti des Indigènes came to wide attention among the English-speaking Left for their sharp critiques of secularism and racism on the French Left following the Charlie Hebdo attacks of 2015. While they seem to enjoy great respect in certain sectors of the Left, the translator of this document believes such respect is mistaken; that PIR’s identitarian politics seeks an alliance with the identitarian far right of Le Pen, Dieudonné, and Soral; and that such an approach to politics poses a great threat to the Left.

Secondly, this document provides a much-needed insight into the problem of antisemitism. Following the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the media hysterically speculated that Europe was on the verge of a pogrom, to be carried out by its numerous Muslim immigrants; Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu took up the hysteria, calling for French Jews to emigrate. The backlash among certain leftists, whom the present translator otherwise respects, was perhaps equally hysterical. Some questioned whether antisemitism was even extant in contemporary Europe; others seemed to blame antisemitic acts on crimes of the Israeli state, rather than the perpetrators. As this document’s analysis shows, antisemitism is not only a threat against Jews, but against any movement of the working class.

Rosa Luxemburg in Martinique

Toward a materialist approach to the racial question: A response to the Indigènes de la République

Malika Amaouche, Yasmine
Kateb, & Léa Nicolas-Teboul
Vacarme (June 25, 2015)

Les Indigènes de la République have helped to shed light on racism within the Left, supported by the racism of French society at large. But are they also prisoners of racism? We propose a systematic analysis of the forces exercised upon the most precarious: a critique of the erasure of race and gender; while escaping the identitarian project of the extreme right; remaining anchored in critique of political economy.

From the dead refugees of the Mediterranean, to the Baltimore riots, to the events of everyday metropolitan life, we are constantly drawn back to the question of race. It seems necessary to propose an analysis of the foundations of racism, which will not be merely a shallow response to current events.

Today, we observe mounting Islamophobia and antisemitism. These two are a pair: in a context where social segregation is becoming stronger, and the logic of all-against-all becomes uncontrollable, we must work to think of these things in conjunction. That means to reject the logic of competition between different racial oppressions; but also to examine Islamophobia and antisemitism together in all their specificity. And in all this, the general context — growing social violence, a hardening of class segmentation, and effects of structural racism (in housing, work, and so on). It is harder and harder for the poor, and for those who are the most precarious (racial minorities and women).

With the [Charlie Hebdo] attacks in January, the left was hit with its own denial of the issue of racism. It made a specialty of denouncing the victimization, and of dismissing racism as a massive structural phenomenon. Institutional feminists’ obsession with the veil functioned as a spotlight on the racism of a Left clinging to an abstract, ahistorical, and highly aggressive universalism.

This was why we were enthusiasts of the great work of exposing the racism of the Republican left — a project in which the Parti des Indigènes de la République has participated since 2004. There are many of us who worked to undermine this “respectable” racism, under which the indigènes were never truly equal.1 If the Left was never explicitly against racialized people, its arguments were dismissive of the great values meant to emancipate them. An entire history of the condescension and paternalism of the French Left remains to be written. Such a history would note the way the discourse of class was used to stratify the hierarchies of the workers’ movement itself.

Nevertheless, it seems to us that PIR is slipping. Riding the gathering wave of identitarianism, it proposes a systematic cultural, almost ethnocentric, reading of social phenomena. This leads to the adoption of dangerous positions on antisemitism, gender, and homosexuality. It essentializes the famous “Indigènes sociaux,” the subaltern it aims to represent. It is as if the racialized working class, who face the most violent racism, are being instrumentalized in a political strategy which basically plays in the arena of the white left and à la mode radical intellectuals.

For us, descendants of Muslim and Jewish Algerians, to lead the critique of the PIR, just as we led the critique of the Left, is a matter of self-defense. We believe we have nothing to win from a political operation which subsumes all questions under those of race. For us, not only the question of race, but also those of political economy, and the social relations of sex, are the order of the day.

Political economy and Islamophobia

Anyone who has taken the RER to Gare du Nord in the morning knows that those who look Arab, black, or Roma, face a constant pressure. “Face control,” police killings, housing in only the most distant banlieues — racial minorities face geographical, social, and symbolic segregation. This integral racism (to take up a phrase of Frantz Fanon), consubstantial with French society, begins with orientation in the fourth grade, or with the search for an internship, or the first job… and extends to all the dimensions of existence. In its multiple appearances, it extends from the streets of rich towns where ethnic men are turned away from nightclubs, to the edges of seas where they are let drown with all the indifference that attends to those who dare cross borders.

In France, Islamophobia — i.e., anti-Muslim racism — is to be understood not merely as a secular opposition to religion, but as a form of racism directed against all who are black or Arab. Its presence is seen in the public space, whether against veiled women, or young people loitering against a wall. The events of January only accentuated this process of stigmatization. From the attacks on mosques to the assaults on veiled women, to the police summons given to eight-year-olds who preferred not to say “Je suis Charlie,” it has become almost impossible for an Arab to speak politically without first prefacing that they are not an Islamist.

But it does not only operate through discriminations or prejudices. Islamophobia returns to a more central issue, the issue of race. This issue functions by assigning a place in the division of labor to certain sections of the population based on their origin or skin color. One need only observe a construction site to note that the heavy labor is performed by blacks, the technical work by Arabs, and that the overseers are white.2 Racism is the regime of material exploitation which has organized the development of European capitalism.

In effect, capitalism promotes market competition not only between capitalists, but between workers as well. This competition takes the form of a process of “naturalization,” which allows a specific devaluation of labor power. Certain sociohistoric traits of the immigrant workforce (for example, qualification, disposition, specialization) are “essentialized”: they are stretched, “typecast.” And this permits employers to bring down cost of labor.

But this process cannot be simply reduced to a “racial premium” of exploitation. It is a total social phenomenon. One may therefore submit that racialization is an essential dynamic under capitalism, which always needs greater labor power, and produces, at the same time, a “surplus” of labor power, always too much.3

Insufficiency of the “colonial” framework

This racism marks, materially and symbolically, the European metropolitan space. Nevertheless, the strict decolonial framework proposed by PIR prevents us from comprehending the actual dynamics of racism, which exist only in conjunction with the development of global capitalism.

The history of colonialism as such is behind us, but it has left traces. The West — that is, the historical center of accumulation now threatened by crisis — perpetuates, through its “War on Terror,” the continuation of structural exploitation on the world scale. Take, for example, the wars over access to natural resources (oil or “strategic” minerals). But equally at play is the intensification of exploitation in all class segments, beginning with the most fragile. This process of immiseration and marginalization ends by engulfing those subjects who are not black, Arab, or the descendants of the colonized. Continue reading

Rassenkampf or Klassenkampf?

I hate to say it, but what strikes me more than anything in rereading Houria Bouteldja’s article is just how painfully French her entire mode of thought is. Far from being fundamentally “alien” and indecipherable to white leftists in the West, her arguments are Western through and through. She recycles the worst of Frog poststructuralist brainrot, precisely when she insists upon her «altérité radicale».

The really astounding thing about this is the way that so many self-declared Marxists, predominantly white Anglophone males, are rallying to the side of a thinker who can only talk about “class struggle” in scare quotes. Perhaps Marx and Engels were wrong, after all: the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of Rassenkampf, not Klassenkampf.

Bouteldja’s polemics against Enlightenment universalism actually has some precedent in (reactionary) French political thought, moreover. Marx has a bit on this in his 1863 Theories of Surplus Value, hardly a piece of a juvenilia. Sub out “Linguet” for “Bouteldja” and switch around the pronouns, maybe get rid of specifics like “contemporaries” and “that was then beginning,” the statement might well stand today:

Linguet…is not a socialist. His polemics against the bourgeois-liberal ideals of the Enlighteners, his contemporaries, against the dominion of the bourgeoisie that was then beginning, are given — half-seriously, half-ironically — a reactionary appearance. He defends Asiatic despotism against the civilized European forms of despotism; thus he defends slavery against wage-labor.

Of course, most of the romantic anti-capitalist motifs Bouteldja relies upon can be traced back to some reactionary European precursor. Her rants against “gay universalism” are clearly underwritten by notions of Kultur and Gemeinschaft as somehow organic and distinct that go at least as far back as Herder. You can almost smell the Spengler, however, in the accounts of decline and cultural pollution by the homosexual bacillus.

At the end of the day, though, it is the “white left” that uncritically embraces this anti-Marxist nonsense that bears most of the blame for its opportunistic pandering.