Once again on the term “identitarian”

An­gela Mitro­poulos, an Aus­trali­an aca­dem­ic and au­thor of Con­tract and Con­ta­gion: From Bi­opol­it­ics to Oiko­nomia, re­cently pos­ted a note on her blog about the ori­gins of the term “iden­tit­ari­an­ism.” This is something that’s come up at dif­fer­ent points in de­bates over the past few years, in­clud­ing the con­tro­versy sparked by the late Mark Fish­er’s art­icle “Ex­it­ing the Vam­pire Castle,” so I thought it might be ger­mane to treat the is­sue at great­er length. Mitro­poulos dir­ectly in­ter­vened in that de­bate against Fish­er, moreover, so it’s ap­pro­pri­ate to en­gage with her at that level as well.

“Iden­tit­ari­an­ism” is an un­for­tu­nate word, for sev­er­al reas­ons. First of all, it’s an awk­ward and off-put­ting con­struc­tion. Ugly neo­lo­gisms — phrases like “pluriver­sal trans­mod­ern­ity,” “phal­lo­go­centric on­to­theo­logy,” “de­co­lo­ni­al epi­stem­o­logy,” etc. — are these days sadly all too com­mon. Second, it’s a poly­semous ex­pres­sion, sig­ni­fy­ing more than one thing. Of­ten it refers to things which are not just dis­tinct from one an­oth­er but even op­pos­ite in mean­ing, a prob­lem I’ve writ­ten about be­fore. Lastly, it has both pos­it­ive and neg­at­ive con­nota­tions de­pend­ing on what’s meant and who’s us­ing it.

Hope­fully, this will be­come clear in what fol­lows. Re­turn­ing to Mitro­poulos’ entry, men­tioned at the out­set, we find:

Ad­orno coined the term “iden­tit­ari­an­ism” in Neg­at­ive Dia­lectics (1966), promp­ted by cri­tique of Kan­tian and Hegel­i­an philo­sophies.

The ar­gu­ment, very briefly, goes something like this: Like Hegel, Ad­orno re­jec­ted the man­ner of Kant’s dis­tinc­tion between nou­men­al and phe­nom­en­al forms. Put simply, Ad­orno gran­ted Hegel’s claim con­cern­ing the his­tor­ic­ally- and con­cep­tu­ally-gen­er­at­ive qual­it­ies of non-cor­res­pond­ence, but wanted to press Marx’s cri­tique of philo­soph­ic­al ideal­ism fur­ther against Hegel­i­an Marx­ism. Ad­orno re­mains a dia­lec­tician. But, un­like Hegel and more like Marx, he es­chewed the af­firm­at­ive, syn­thet­ic moves of con­scious­ness (i.e., philo­soph­ic­al ideal­ism) and ac­cor­ded epi­stem­o­lo­gic­al-his­tor­ic­al pri­or­ity to the ob­ject (mat­ter, ma­ter­i­al­ism) rather than the sub­ject (ideal­ism) in ex­plain­ing the course of this gen­er­at­ive, non-cor­res­pond­ence (or non-iden­tity). Iden­tit­ari­an­ism and the ideal­ist philo­sophies of Kant and Hegel are thereby con­tras­ted to a ma­ter­i­al­ist philo­sophy of non-cor­res­pond­ence, or what Ad­orno calls “neg­at­ive dia­lectics.”

How it happened that “iden­tit­ari­an­ism” came to be plaus­ibly used as a syn­onym for “iden­tity polit­ics” — or, more ac­cur­ately, co-op­ted by arch-iden­tit­ari­an Hegel­i­an Marx­ists against any em­phas­is on race, gender and/or sexu­al­ity, and in their de­fense of more or less ex­pli­cit ar­gu­ments that class is the a pri­ori or primary cat­egor­ic­al di­vi­sion of sub­stance — is a mys­tery to me.

Mitro­poulos dis­tin­guishes, in oth­er words, between the ho­mo­gen­eity as­ser­ted by lo­gic­al op­er­a­tions of equi­val­ence or iden­tity, which de­clare un­like things (A & B) to be alike (A = B), and the het­ero­gen­eity as­ser­ted by vari­ous iden­tity groups with com­pet­ing sec­tion­al in­terests, which de­clare them­selves dif­fer­ent from everything else. She in­dic­ates, quite cor­rectly, that the former was cri­ti­cized by Ad­orno in the six­ties, where­as the lat­ter has been cri­ti­cized by fig­ures like Ad­olph Reed, Wal­ter Benn Mi­chaels, Nancy Fraser, and Mark Fish­er over the last fif­teen or so years. Continue reading

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


The first issue of the neo-Cliffite webzine Salvage approvingly quotes the renowned Iranian Marxist revolutionary Ali Shariati, to the effect that humanity is located somewhere “between mud and providence.” Shariati is the author of such timeless classics as Marxism and Other Western Fallacies. Promising indeed.

Because supposedly between salvation and garbage there is salvage.

Or, better yet: Because between garbage and salvation there is garbation.

mek_demo1979shariatikhomeiniposters copy 2

Noreaga explains:

All our whips got navigation
While your whips is just garbation
Is you knowing what you facing?

Got to love any Marxist publication whose primary sources of inspiration seem to be Judith Butler, Ali Shariati, and Naomi Klein. Read Ritual instead.

Still better: between Socialist Worker and garbage there is SeWa☭e.



The concept of the Left and the Right

A moderated panel
Platypus Review 68
July 4th, 2014

Chris Cutrone|Nikos Malliaris|Samir Gandesha

We are the 99%!

— Occupy Wall Street
(September 2011)

The Left must define itself on the level of ideas, conceding that in many instances it will find itself in the minority.

— Leszek Kolakowski
“The concept of the Left”
(November 1958)

The distinction of the Left and the Right was never clear. But following the failure of the Old Left, the relevance of these categories has increasingly ceased to be self-evident. In its place there has been a recurring declaration of the “end of ideology”; by 1960s intellectuals like Daniel Bell, 1980s postmodernists, and 1990s post-Left anarchism.

Yet in spite of the recurring death of ideology, the terms “Left” and “Right” seem to persist, albeit in a spectral manner. With the politics that attended the uprisings of 2011 — from the Arab Spring to Occupy — there seemed a sense that the left ideology has simultaneously become irrelevant and inescapable. While the call for democracy by the “99%” has its roots in the historical demands of the Left, these movements were notable to the extent that they were not led by left organizations. To many who participated in these movements, left politics seemed “purely ideological” and not a viable avenue to advance discontents. Now that this moment has passed there is a sense that the Right has prevailed, and even a sense of resignation, a sense that the Left was not really expected to be competitive.

This ambiance seems in contrast to the past. At the height of the New Left’s struggle to overcome the Old Left, the Polish Marxist Leszek Kolakowski declared that the concept of the Left “remained unclear.” In contrast to the ambivalence of the present, the act of clarifying the ambiguity of the Left seemed to have political stakes. The Left, he declared, could not be asserted by sociological divisions in society, but only by defining itself ever more precisely at the level of ideas. He was aware that the ideas generated by the Left, such as “freedom” and “equality,” could readily be appropriated by the Right, but they would only do so if they failed to be ruthlessly clarified. For Kolakowski the Old Communist Left had ceased to be Left and had become the Right precisely on the basis of its ideological inertia.

What does it mean today when the challenges to the status quo are no longer clearly identifiable as originating from the Left? While it seems implausible that Left ideology has been transcended because people still explain social currents in terms of Left and Right, there is a sense in the present that to end exploitation will demand a measure of realpolitik — a better tactical response — rather than ideological clarification. One has the uneasy feeling that existence of the Left and the right only persist by virtue of the fact the concept of the Left has somehow become settled, static, and trapped in history. But wouldn’t this be antithetical to any concept of the Left?


Preliminary remarks

Chris Cutrone:
 “The Concept of the Left” was published in English translation in 1968. Actually, the essay dates from the late fifties, and it was a response to the crackdown that came with the Khrushchev revelations. Most famously, there was an uprising in Hungary in 1956 after Khrushchev’s revelations about Stalin, but in fact there were attempts at liberalization in other parts of Eastern Europe, including Poland. Kolakowski participated in that, but also suffered the consequences of the reaction against it, and that’s what prompted him to write the essay. Much later, Kolakowski became a very virulent anti-Marxist. But in the late fifties, he’s still writing within the tradition of Marxism and drawing from the history of its controversies, specifically the revisionist dispute and the split with the Second International into the Third International.

Kolakowski wrote that the Left needs to be defined at the level of ideas rather than at the level of sociological groups. In other words, Left and Right don’t correspond to “workers” and “capitalists.” Rather, the Left is defined by its vision of the future, its utopianism, whereas the Right is defined by the absence of that, by opportunism. Very succinctly, Kolakowski said, “The Right doesn’t need ideas, it only needs tactics.” So what is the status of the ideas that would define the Left?

He says that the Left is characterized by an obscure and mysterious consciousness of history. The Left is concerned with the opening and furthering of possibilities, whereas the Right is about the foreclosure of those possibilities. The consciousness of those possibilities would be the ideology of the Left. Kolakowski’s use of the term “utopia,” when he says the Left is defined by utopia, is a rather peculiar and eccentric use of the term. It’s not a definite image of the future; it’s rather a sense of possibility — a consciousness of change. This might involve certain images of the future, but it’s not defined, for Kolakowski, by those images of the future. Left and Right are relative; there’s a spectrum that goes from a sense of possibility for change and ranges off to the Right with a foreclosure of those possibilities, which is what justifies opportunism and politics of pure tactics.

Another useful category that Kolakowski introduced is “crime.” He says politics cannot be fully extricated from crime, but the Left should be willing to call crime “crime,” whereas the Right needs to pretend that crimes are exigent necessities. In other words, the Left is concerned with distinguishing between true necessities and failures to meet those necessities, which is what political crime amounts to. So Kolakowski says that the Left cannot avoid committing crimes, but it can avoid failure to recognize them as crimes. In this respect, crimes would be compromises that foreclose possibilities — political failure is a crime. This is important, again, because the context in which he was writing was Stalinism, and Khrushchev’s revelation of Stalin’s crimes. In other words, Khrushchev’s concern was, “Okay, Stalin is dead and there’s been a struggle for power in his wake. How are we going to make sense of the past twenty or thirty years of history. What were the crimes that were committed?” The crimes that were committed in this respect were crimes against the revolution — crimes against freedom, crimes against the possibility of opening further possibilities for change. In this respect, the Left is concerned with freedom, and the Right is concerned with the disenchantment of freedom — the foreclosing of possibilities for freedom. Whereas the Left must believe in freedom, the Right does not. Hannah Arendt in the 1960s in On Revolution points out how remarkable it was that the language of freedom had dropped out of the Left already at that point.

Today, one of the reasons why Platypus says, “The Left is dead! Long live the Left!” is that the concept of freedom, and therefore the concept of the Left itself, has given way rather to concerns with social justice. Social justice can’t be about freedom because justice is about restoring the status quo ante, not advancing further possibilities. While we might say there can be no freedom without justice, we can say that there can be justice without freedom. When the avowed Left concerns itself not with freedom but with justice, it ceases to be a Left. That’s because pursuing a politics of justice would stand on different justifications than pursuing a politics of freedom — in the name of justice, crimes against freedom can be committed. Continue reading

Interview with Ross Wolfe of on #Occupy, the role of criticism in relation to theory and praxis, and the “return to Marx”


Conducted by C. Derick Varn of
The Loyal Opposition to Modernity

Here’s Derick’s introduction to this interview:

Ross Wolfe introduced me to the Platypus Affiliated Society and is a member of my Aesthetics, Politics, and Theory: Red and/or Black (of which Symptomatic Redness is a project).  Ross Wolfe is currently a graduate student at the University of Chicago.  The main focus of his work is in Russian history, but he is also interested in Central European history, Jewish studies, philosophy, and Marxism.  He writes primarily about the history of avant-garde architecture, contemporary political issues (activism, current events), and topics such as the environment, technology, utopianism, and the history of the Left.  He blogs at the Charnel-House.

More from Derick’s ongoing Marginalia on Radical Thinking series can be found hereherehereherehereherehereherehere, here, and here.

C. DERICK VARN: So you have been working with and critiquing Occupy Wall Street from your vantage point in New York.  How did you get involved?

ROSS WOLFE: I was first alerted to the #Occupy protests going on down at Liberty Plaza about one week after it began, by someone much further from the scene than I was — my good friend Steve McClellan, a graduate student in Central European history at Oregon State University.  At that point, the movement had barely made any sort of splash in the mainstream media, and mostly established itself through YouTube videos and other decentralized, user-based means.

So I decided to take a visit down to Zuccotti Park to try and get a better sense of what was going on there.  What I saw there (especially at this early point) was largely ideological incoherence.  The politics on display at Occupy Wall Street were symptomatic in very much the same way that they had been at the resurgent anti-globalization protests against the G-8 in Pittsburgh back in 2009 and the G-20 conference in Toronto in 2010.  Needless to say, my first reactions to the demonstration were fairly pessimistic.  This was reflected in my initial write-up of my experiences. Continue reading