Saturday, January 30, 2010

Weekend Readings: The errors of history & the urgency of their contemporary relevance.

This is a photograph of Master Warrant Officer Charlotte Hawes of Dundurn, Saskatchewan, a reservist with the the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, talking to her Afghan sisters in Kandahar last Thursday. The photograph was taken by Kirsty Wigglesworth of the Associated Press, and it is among a variety of photographs to be found at the Boston Globe, in The Big Picture.

Weekend readings:

Peter Tatchell presents an insightful analysis of the Baloch freedom struggle underway, not far from Kandahar, on the Pakistani side of the border. If you think along the lines that our purposes in Afghanistan should be driven by a concern for "stability" in Pakistan, Tatchell's essay should rid you of the habit, right quick. Long live Balochistan.

Our Chum in the Six Counties, a socialist, blows a gasket over about the eejits who cavil on about Britain's purity being diluted by the scary monster of American transnational corporations: "I can't be the only one sick to the back teeth of the national whinge-fest that has greeted the news that the American food firm Kraft are to take over Cadbury's, can I? It's not that I've got anything against people getting all slushy and sentimental, but at least save it for something worthwhile - for instance, the welfare of the poor sods who actually work there. That though hasn't been the reason for a lot of people getting themselves worked up over this issue."

This brings to mind one of the best essays to appear in New Left Review in years, which is not saying much, I realize, and this essay appeared almost two years ago, but it remains directly relevant. Walter Benn Michaels, in Against Diversity, explains: "After half a century of anti-racism and feminism, the US today is a less equal society than was the racist, sexist society of Jim Crow. Furthermore, virtually all the growth in inequality has taken place since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965—which means not only that the successes of the struggle against discrimination have failed to alleviate inequality, but that they have been compatible with a radical expansion of it. Indeed, they have helped to enable the increasing gulf between rich and poor.

"Why? Because it is exploitation, not discrimination, that is the primary producer of inequality today. It is neoliberalism, not racism or sexism (or homophobia or ageism) that creates the inequalities that matter most in American society; racism and sexism are just sorting devices. In fact, one of the great discoveries of neoliberalism is that they are not very efficient sorting devices, economically speaking. If, for example, you are looking to promote someone as Head of Sales in your company and you are choosing between a straight white male and a black lesbian, and the latter is in fact a better salesperson than the former, racism, sexism and homophobia may tell you to choose the straight white male but capitalism tells you to go with the black lesbian. Which is to say that, even though some capitalists may be racist, sexist and homophobic, capitalism itself is not."

My good friend Peter Ryley has composed an important protest against that similarly popular abuse of history which sets out to simplistically conflate socialism with fascism and thus elide crucial distinctions between authoritarianism and totalitarianism. Equally detestable though these tyrannies may be, there's no excuse for falling for propaganda so silly that it will have you playing games of connect-a-dot between Naziism and liberalism.

To properly interrogate this contemporary fad, you will unavoidably encounter its evil twin, which is to say you will find yourself staring at the ugliest face of European pro-Islamofascist leftism, as noted a while back by the always interesting Anti-German Translation. Their headline sums it up well enough: The Racism of Radical Islam's Useful Idiots.

For further and necessary proofs of Peter's case, historical evidence is in abundance in Enzo Traverso's The Aporias of Marxism. He notes that too many German Jews kept faith for too long in the resilience of the identity they had incorporated within German society, and they were not alone in their mistake: "The workers' movement was no more ready to deal with the catastrophe." There were warnings, of course, most presciently from Leon Trotsky. But they want largely unheeded, owing to eejits making a similar kind of silly "liberalism equals fascism" mistake that's popular today. "However, in 1933, Nazism unleashed its attack on the workers' organizations, not on the Jews. Nazi anti‑Semitism developed gradually and inexorably, passing through several stages: first discrimination and the questioning of emancipation again (1933-35); then economic depredations and the adoption of a policy of persecution (1938-41); finally extermination (1941-45). The destruction of the workers' movement was not a gradual process: it was, in fact, one of the conditions for the consolidation of the Nazi regime." And some people obstinately refuse to learn from the great errors of history: "Marxist literature of the interwar period tended to explain Nazi anti-Semitism as a 'tool' of the ruling classes, without seeing in it a new phenomenon."

That "new phenomenon" is not so new to us anymore, and persists in contemporary iterations, but inexcusably, so does the error-addled Marxist literature of the interwar years continue to produce the most embarrassing mistakes across the liberal-left, most dangerously in the way the nature of the nature of the Khomeinist regime in Iran is misunderstood.

Mathias Küntzel makes no such mistake in his just=published essay, Iranian Antisemitism: Stepchild of German National Socialism. And I'm not saying this just because the title has the same ring to it as The Organ-Harvesting Scare: A Mutant Offspring Of Anti-Zionism & Classic Antisemitism, either: It is true that Ahmadinejad does not attack “the Jews”, but instead claims that “two thousand Zionists want to rule the world.” He says, “For sixty sears now, the Zionists” have blackmailed all western governments.” “The Zionists have imposed themselves on a substantial portion of the banking, financial, cultural and media sectors.” “The Zionists” are responsible for the Danish Muhammad cartoons. “The Zionists” are responsible for the destruction of the dome of the Golden Mosque in Iraq. Of course, he invests the word “Zionist” with exactly the same sense with which Hitler once invested the word “Jew”: namely, that of being the incarnation of all evil. Whoever makes Jews responsible for all the ills of the world – whether as “Judas” or “Zionists” – is clearly driven by antisemitism. . .

Küntzel sets out a clearly-argued and evidence-rich case that the lineage of Khomeinist Israelophobia descends inexorably from Iranian Germanophilia and the lingering impacts of persistent Nazi propaganda. And as I say, he makes no mistakes.

When mistakes prevail and abuses of history are permissible, we won't recognize the greater evil of totalitarian tyranny so long as it says mean things about the Yanks and the Zionists: This is a regime that hangs dissidents who protest rigged elections for the crime of being enemies of God. And we won't recognize authoritarian tyranny when we see it, so long as it comes shouting Viva Che! slogans: “In the system as it is today, there is no way to protect yourself from attacks from the State.”

And when you look at that photograph at the top of this post, you will see an imperialist from an occupying power, oppressing the people, instead of a woman from Saskatchewan, sharing in a moment of quiet happiness with her Afghan sisters.


Blogger David Kames said...

I was here earlier when you just had the photo up. As far as I'm concerned the picture speaks for itself - I read it loud and clear (not that your notes aren't appreciated ;-)

3:24 PM  

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