August 26, 2009

Moishe Postone on the Holocaust

Few essays on the topic of anti-semitism so powerfully articulate why today's "left"-wing political movements stand as such spectacular failures, as Moise Postone's essay, "Antisemitismus und Nationalsozialismus." The question that should persist, but never does, is how can the proletariat still be thought of as a historical class with the potential, or even tendency, towards bringing about emancipation from the misery of capitalism after Auschwitz? The answer, of course, is that it can't.

This may perhaps be too abstract, though the consequences of the theoretical failures of the left have been in material terms dire, so we will return to earth for a moment. Part of the lack of critique of the left by its own most critical quarters can be shown today in more practical manifestations by thinking about NPR. For example, if you take the average anarchist, place them in front of a radio and have them listen to NPR they will likely have many different varied reactions. What will be immediately noticeable is that there opinion of the environmental issues discussed on NRP will be disagreeable. NPR will likely not promote veganism or other more "serious" forms of environmental "justice" action. What will also be displeasing to the anarchist is the discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The anarchist will be outraged that the brutality of the Israelis is not being proportionally reported while simultaneously being annoyed that the holocaust is always brought up in any discussion of the conflict. Similarly the neo-nazi would feel the same way. The other interesting part here is the way our hypothetical anarchist agrees with liberal NPR's presentation of the question of racism since multiculturalism is, in their eyes, the most advanced form of anti-racism. Ever race in their own community, every community with their place. Similarly every animal in their cage and every cage in a zoo. It is worth saying that every anarchist is different and that anarchism today barely has what could be referred to as a coherent ideology that is written down and continually referenced by anarchists on a regular basis. However this does not mean that the anarchists who embody the western anarchist movement don't regularly exhibit these reactionary traits. So why note this? The essay I have linked attempts to show the functioning of one ideology, of one worldview, in its most virulent reactionary form. That ideology and worldview being anti-semitism. Postone's essay can't articulate all the ways in which the political tendencies I outlined briefly above are reactionary or right-wing. I, however, can quickly sketch those connections out and hopefully demonstrate the need for further critique.

Starting with the religiosity on display in the hearts of the "left" for environmental causes, what is immediately apparent is that it runs on the dual concern for the purity of the earth, like the neo-nazi is concerned about the purity of the race, and the concern over impending ecological disaster. The obsession with purity and, most notably, naturalness is covered by Postone so there is not a need to address that here. Ecological disaster on the other hand works to terrify those who believe it is coming into action. The purpose of action for militant "leftists" in environmental "justice" struggles generally makes little sense for people who believe in a future without nations or borders. This is primarily because environmentalism in this sense functions solely as a liberal reformist position that is just more hard line. The reason being that the environmental worldview tends to take supposed test cases for climate change like Hurricane Katrina and place the blame on the changing weather. This is of course the liberal position. More and more big hurricanes are coming, worse weather is upon us, the earth is slowly being destroyed, etc. However the radical position should be, though it generally isn't, who cares about the changes in the earth? A communist society without nations or borders, where the means of production serve to automate production for leisure and all labor is voluntary, where everyone who wants a giant car to drive out of their environmentally threatened home can leave to wherever they like. Perhaps production won't lead to everyone owning a nice car, immediately, but the point doesn't rely on that level of development. People suffered in Katrina because capitalism as a system strangled them, leaving them to ruin. Real environmental justice then, means greater control over the earth, not less.

The next issue is the functioning of anti-zionism on the left as being the same as the functioning of anti-semitism for the right. The key component is that anti-zionism usually places control over governments like that of the United States in the hands of powerful zionists who shape America's foreign policy and specifically its policy towards Israel. White anti-zionists stand on land acquired through ceaseless massacre and misery, while all around them the ancestors of those people slaughtered live in the worst conditions imaginable and then make one of their top politlcal demands be that the ancestors of the holocaust leave Israel because the entire country belongs to the indigenous Palestinians. This is a perfect solution for a tribalist world view, which brings us to the final part of our sketch, multiculturalism.

In many ways multiculturalism functions as the form of anti-racism most comfortable to the anarchist because anarchist thought today functions primarily on a type of tribalism. Essentially the understanding of other cultures comes from a mostly static, and generally most reactionary, concept of another person's culture and thus who they are. Of course this acts as a powerful form of racism which is blind to its adherents because they never bring that type of analysis back to their own group, their own people. A white anarchist who thought of other white people in the manner that they respectfully attempt to understand other people would immediately negate the diversity of experience they have had with other white people. It would also mean, simultaneously, having to accept the logic of white pride. For if the understanding of anti-racism is a type of multicultural zoo where everyone is pushed to fit in their neat cultural/ethnic/racial/religious category and stay there then one is forced to either admit that all cultures are equal, another claim that is nonsensical in the face of Auschwitz, or rather that they are not and thus the racism against certain groups of people because of the prejudice against parts of "their" culture becomes immediately justified. The former is usually chosen because thinking in a-historical terms tends to strain the mind least. The radical position here needs only to be one of resistance to categorization along any cultural lines and the destruction of the notion that all cultures are equal. The culture of a future communist society is certainly superior to the present culture of the United States, for one small example.

The relationship between the brief sketch of elements of contemporary anarchist thought and Postone's essay is indeed difficult to easily articulate. So in a typically Deluzian fashion I'll try and articulate a rhizome of thought as opposed to a tree like structure of hierarchical knowledge to make the connections. Functioning at the core of actual right-wing thought is a world view of control, where there is a group or person who has the ultimate say in everything politically and if only they could be removed the world would finally be a beautiful place. This is regularly coupled with the belief that we would be returning to a past glory thoug not always. Thus when we articulate fully the way anti-semitism functions as a world view we are immediately able to spot right-wing thought, even when it leaves the tips of leftist tongues. This is because anti-semitism is not just simply the hatred of jews, since if that were the case it would function like all other racisms instead of a bag filled with ideological "facts" connected together to create a worldview. That worldview, as stated above, is one in which an insidious group controls society. Again, this does not have to be the jews. Right-wing thought today, as well as left-wing though unfortunately, is obsessed with conspiracy theories about the illuminati, free masons and globalists running the world. Again the key is that there is a group of people who run things and ruin it all for everyone. The next important notion is clearly a national socialist notion, which is of purity. Germans at one point felt they needed to be purified of the jews to finally be great again. Similarly in rightist and leftist thought today people wish to purify the United States of the illuminati, the complete eradication of a constructed evil group being the logical conclusion of their sinister control. Another important notion is that of catastophe or apocalypse. This is the material pull of the existential threat created by the notion of a sinister group in control, since it presents itself as the coming doom and ruin of everything that one holds dear. Usually what one holds dear, the nation, the bible, the race, are all garbage and should be destroyed by a jewish communist globalist conspiracy. Thus tribalism, the belief that the basic unit of political life is the tribe, is intrinsic in anti-semitism because it posits first that the most powerful group is the one that works best together to control everything, the jews. The next logical step from here is of course that the enemies of the jews, in Germany this was all aryan people, must unite together and fight their common enemy. Tribalism thus works to create mental boundaries similar to national boundaries, but much more difficult to cross. Ultimately this means that the reactionary cesspool of anti-semitism infests thought with notions of purity, catastrophe, conspiracy and tribalism, among many other notions. From here these notions are transfigured into the "revolutionary" ideology of the "left" today. Since I've defined what I think is right-wing thought and its base functioning, and I do mean that anyone on the left who wants to purify the earth, purify their food, thinks ecological disaster is right around the corner and thinks tribal life is amazing, would have been right at home with the national socialists and is unquestionably, no matter how much they protest, on the political right.

Returning to our concern over what actually is right-wing and left-wing thinking requires us to try and articulate what a left-wing position is. The claim here is that serious left-wing thought is constant immanent critique. Nothing else will suffice. The Michel Foucault of Discipline and Punish is thus presenting left-wing thought in that he is articulating the limits (critique) and the intersections of a certain form of power without reference to a transcendental (immanent) force. The opposite of this amongst anarchists would be John Zerzan who sees a world that needs to be purified, to be cleansed of an evil force that is strangling it, specifically human beings. Under critical examination he is clearly quite right-wing. Defending the left means drawing more constellations and searching for new emancipatory potential wherever it can be found. Since immanent critique has no ground, no singular permanent basis from which to stand, it moves like a nomad, nomads being, of course, the model communists. Without a nation, without borders and always trying to push their limits. The most important thing to remember is the easiest to forget when the ground has slipped out from beneath you: All those who wander are not lost.

Again the link to Postone's essay "Antisemitismus und Nationalsozialismus"

-Jean Black

No comments:

Post a Comment