Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Fill in the blank

Chaos Marxism quotes this:
Those individuals who adopt fill in the blank because they need an identity will be condemned to wander the sectarian and factional hall of mirrors, constantly looking for the perfect group that will give them their desperately needed sense of specialness and superiority. ... People with confused identities are attracted to totalitarian solutions.
And then adds:
The original article filled the blank with "Islam", but as you can see if you throw "Marxism" in there it works just as well.
That's so true! Of course, there's lots of isms we could fill the blank with...

***

I've stupidly joined in another debate about Zionism, this time with "anarchists" at anarkismo: The Palestinian struggle and the anarchist dilemma. It's effectively a rehash of the same debate as this one, except it is with people who ought to know better. Go join in, if you have the energy.


***
Today's miscellaneous links:

Gershon Baskin: Will Israelis ever accept the Arab Peace Initiative? (More from Greens Engage.)

Jeremy Seabrook on the BNP in Labour's working class heartlands. Meanwhile, the BNP violently attack No2EU activists in Carlisle. (Here, incidentally, are who the BNP in Cumbria are.)

Gene at HP: Cynthia McKinney descent watch continued.

James William Kilgore, the last arrested Symbionese Liberation Army killer has been released. Jogo comments: "Did six years easy prison time for bombs, mayhem and accessory to murder. Sentence shortened for being of the White Race (could join BNP if he wanted to). Defendent made no objection to White Race-induced short sentence. Heh-heh, it's great to be a member of the White Race when you get caught."

No Jews Allowed: Anti-German reports on another depressing manifestation of hate in Austria.

42 comments:

ct said...

Heh. Sorry for dragging you into the drama at Anarkismo, Bob. I appreciate reading your contributions though.

Mike S. said...

Hey Bob,

Quickly, cuz I'm busy: your contributions at anarkismo are great, and the proof is the relative lack of engagement with your perspective (as vs. the multiple responses given by WP and JAGD to s.l.). I know you and I don't exactly see eye-to-eye about this (in particular I think anti-nationalism is not reducible to the simple equation nationalism=bourgeois myth), but I'm glad to see you commenting there regardless of minor quibbles.

Solidarity,
Mike

bob said...

Thanks Mike, no probs CT.

I am not happy, by the way, with the way I used the words "bourgeois myth" which struck me after I pressed submit as simplistic, glib, formulaic and jargonistic. But to explain it fuller would have taken too long.

Btw Mike, if you're still here, have you seen the new Big Flame blog, which has some material about the STO and its links to Big Flame, including a mention of your project. SOJOURNER TRUTH ORGANIZATION « Big Flame

Ahmed said...

Why ought they to know better?

TNC said...

I was subscribed to a listserv with some of the people commenting on that thread (Ilan Shalif and others). I remain unsure why you take so much time debating/arguing with these people. I think it is because you have an attachment to the libertarian-left/anarchist movement and want to show them the error of their ways. But I suspect it is a big waste of time. These people having been making the same long-winded statements for at least a decade. Their “analysis” never changes.

ModernityBlog said...

Interesting discussion on anarkismo, but Jose bloke should try to address your points more directly.

I wouldn't have the patience as you did, but I thought you, Bob, made some sound points.

bob said...

TNC, it's because I'm a sucker for punishment, evidently.

Ahmed, because I expect anarchists not to fall for the idiocy of nationalism and reactionary "anti-imperialism".

Anonymous said...

maybe it's time to figure out a way to evaluate whether there is a possibility of success? maybe qualitative interviews with anarchists/leftists who have changed their views on these topics, and who might be able to provide some insight about it?

Brian said...

Bob,

You left at the right time, re-reading that anarchist thread, it has since gone down hill.

ross said...

"because I expect anarchists not to fall for the idiocy of nationalism"

no, but you usually find in a desire to show how anti-nationalist they are, they adopt a crude, reductionist,simplistic almost binary/trot like line on a whole load of things around language & culture, refusing to believe that the ordinary people are active, willing and defining subjects in the development of all this (and refusing to see any distinction between nationalism as a political project and the language/culture that that project makes use of) - instead they seem to prefer the idea and falsehood that all these things are constructed from the top down and pushed down on to us by a conniving elite purely for their own purposes, now i'm not saying that it's one of these things or another, the truth like most things in real life is much more nuanced and subtle than that, however most of the time, anarchists & real life tend to be strangers in the night and therefore adopt approaches to nationalism that owe more to living in textbooks than real life - this is just one example why they are so marginalised and irrelevant in the eyes of those they supposedly should carry an appeal to

contested-terrain said...

Hi Bob,
I am impressed with your endurance over at anarkismo. I am wondering though if you think you'll make any progress. It seems that the next retreat Jose will take is to argue that Jews don't constitute a "real" nation. Or has he already done that?
You're arguing quite solidly and logically, but I am not sure that will help, namely because antisemitism is a non-rational phenomenon.
How is it possible to address a non-rational phenomenon by means of a rational discourse?
This is an old problem, raised by critical theorists, as well as by Sartre, as I'm sure you know. It would be great to have a discussion about this dilemma, either on a strategic or analytical level.
As for discussing it on the anarkismo thread, that is a waste of time. As soon as you bring up antisemitism, they will charge you with trying to silence their "critique of Israel."
Matthias Kuentzel wrote quite eloquently about pedagogical approaches to antisemitism, which might make for an interesting discussion, focusing on the limits of enlightenment, and focusing on the subject (the person), rather than the object (jewish history, etc.). Check it out here:
http://jta.org/news/article/2009/04/19/1004269/denying-the-deniers-q-a-with-deborah-lipstadt

bob said...

CT, am trying to disengage myself from the thread! I think that it is possible to have a discussion with people that loosely hold irrational views, and show them that they do. Lots of people just absorb racism and conspiracy theory without thinking it through, and a little bit of cold, clear light will clear up the murk.

Other people are passionately attached to irrationalisms, and, no, you can't really argue with them. In some cases (not the guys at anarkismo!) the best thing is probably to just physically shut them up...

Sometimes, you can't tell which category is in until you argue with them.

I think that we need to be smarter about the pedagogical approach to all of this. This is part of the problem I have with what I call Harryism, and its occasional manifestation in, say, comment threads at Engage. When you are trying to combat left antisemitism, conspiracy theory, moonbattery, etc, it cannot be the right starting point to assume that your audience is already against these things. We need better ways of reaching out to people who are vulnerable to this bullshit.

I will check out Kuentzel. Is the link you sent right? It's the same topic, but it's Deborah Lipstadt.

contested-terrain said...

oops. the correct link is here.

the lipstadt one is alright too though in case you need more to read. she argues that the gaza=warsaw ghetto comparison is a form of "soft-core denial," because it essentially denies what the Shoah actually was. but that's a topic for another time.

bob said...

I've read the Lipstadt now: I like the notion of "softcore" denial, quite useful. And the distinction she makes between who you can and who you can't argue with it pertinent. I'll go read Kuentzel now.

contested-terrain said...

hey bob,
i look forward to hearing your thoughts on the kuentzel piece. it tries to address exactly the point of the limits of enlightenment. (it is of course drawing on adorno and horkheimer.) but i disagree with your assesment of the anarkismo discussion. take for example jose´s refusal to acknolwedge arab resistance to jewish immigration. he kept on arguing that they objected instead to being displaced from the economy and from the land. if you look at it, you realize that he wasnt denying arab objections to jewish immigration, but rather finding a justification for it.
in that case, it is not a matter of bringing something to light - he admits arab opposition to jewish immigration. what is at stake is his support for it, and his denial of the reasons (mainly, persecution of jews in europe) why zionists fought for open borders.
so, the issue is not simply a matter of bringing these well-known facts to light, but rather something else.
it is not always a lack of facts that lead to bad positions. often it is the other way around: a hostile feeling towards jews (often repressed and located in the subconscience) that plays itself out in political positions, including the manipulation of those facts, or a justification of them (as was the case with jose).

an element of antisemitism, to take a point from kuentzel (and adorno and horkheimer), is then to refocus away from the object (ie. jews and jewish history) to the subject (the antisemite).

i think we have to address the psychological and repressed forms of antisemitism, amongst those who dont see themselves as antisemites, but express their animosity towards jews in other forms.

i dont read Harry´s blog, but I think I know what you mean. i agree we need better strategies of approaching these topics, but i also think it´s absolutely necessary to confront antisemitism head-on, and to stop playing games with fools. it only emboldens them.

Waterloo Sunset said...

Anarkismo (and Wayne Price specifically) have always been overly soft on nationalism for my liking. It seems to be a particular issue for platformists for some reason. Libcom has a lot on this if you do a search. (Devrim of the ICC and Wayne do not get on particuarly well...)

However, on that article specifically, while I think it's weak on nationalism, I don't see how it's any more so than the anti-germans. (Which I think it's fair to say that both you and CT are sympathetic too).

Is that unfair of me? Should I see cheerleading for Milosovec and chanting "Bomber Harris do it again" as somehow better then the article linked?

bob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bob said...

I got involved with the anarkismo thread some time after the original article, and was responding more to some of the comments than to the original article.

It seems to me that Platformism imports so much of the baggage of the trad left that anarchism could probably do now with shedding some of Platformism's load, even if its history includes some inspiring figures.

On the Anti-Germans, while I am sympathetic to their position in many ways, I oppose the enemy's-enemy logic that leads them to applaud Bomber Harris and Milosevic or to fly American flags. I don't know enough about them, but I believe there are several levels of hardcore-ness among the Anti-Germans, and that some are orientated to Germany's Eastern enemies (the Red Army, Serbia) and others to Germany's Western enemies (the US, Israel), while some are consistently anti-nationalist.

---

I still haven't read the MK piece (I printed it out for the bus, but keep mislaying it). Will get back to this when I have.

contested-terrain said...

"I don't see how [the article] is any more [weak on nationalism] than the anti-germans."

In 2009, references to "the anti-germans" as a homogenous group is quite laughable. But sticking with your statement, how does "chanting 'Bomber Harris do it again'" make them nationalists? You're referring to a small group of punk rock teenagers, or leftists who trying to antagonize neo-Nazis, trying to break the victimization complex of post-war Germans. Yeah, there's some DJ that puts Bomber Harris on his flyers. So what.

But you ask about nationalism. Being that they are Germans making positive references to the British attacks on Nazi Germany, I perceive this as anti-nationalism. Can you explain why you see it as nationalism?

As far as my sympathies to the anti-germans go, once again, you would have to specify what you're referring to. The analysis of nationalism and national socialism, of secondary antisemitism, of antizionism, of anti-imperialism? Those are in my view the strong points. I take it as a red herring to refer to U.S. flag waving anti-germans, or to supporters of the war on Iraq. That's a minority position I believe (at odds with my own opposition to the war, since you asked), and mostly irrelevant to the broader significance of the anti-german critique.

contested-terrain said...

small addition. there are a variety of deviations from orthodox anti-imperialist positions today, outside of the anti-german milieu. Moishe Postone for example strongly influenced the critique of antisemitism, national socialism, anti-imperialism, and of labor-fetishized anti-capitalism. do all references to Postone mean one is expressing an anti-german politics? The Platypus group in the U.S. is another example of a group critical of orthodox anti-imperialism, and represent a particularly US development quite separate from the anti-german critique. Same with some in News & Letters, and the National Organization for the Iraqi Freedom Struggles.
Of course it's not just about defying the orthodox anti-imp, as Three Way Fight is a good example of a group that defies it only to return to it in a vulgar form of anti-zionism and Hezbollah solidarity.
Anyway, a critique of vulgar anti-imp is coming from a variety of voices, and this is reasonable considering that the supposed anti-imperialists who are fighting the US in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, or who are blowing up Hotels and targeting Jews in Mumbai, are basically themselves imperialists who represent no emancipatory alternative.
That this reality would result in the development of a variety of critiques of anti-imperialism, could only be expected.

bob said...

Broadly agree with CT, except this: being pro-Bomber Harris is anti-nationalist if it comes from a German (to grossly simplify). If someone from the US, in NEFAC say, or from the UK, in the SWP perhaps, is pro- the (nationalist) enemy of Britain, this is not strictly nationalist, in the way that anti-Germans who are pro-Milosevic aren't strictly nationalists. BUT the problem with NEFAC or the SWP etc is not that they are British or American nationalists. It is that they are VICARIOUS nationalists (to use Maurice Brinton's phrase, I think). They are cheerleaders for other people's nationalism. And this is just as bad. Or, actually, far worse.

contested-terrain said...

A few weeks ago, there was a celebration in Berlin for the defeat over Nazi Germany. Was that also a form of vicarious nationalism? Generally speaking no, although there was a sentiment of Russian nationalism from Russians or Russian-Germans. But that is not vicarious nationalism, rather straight-up nationalism, which is something else.
Do the t-shirts "Stalingrad 44" in Germany express "vicarious nationalism"? Not sure. I think that's a poor interpretation, that puts too much attention on the marginal aspect. The major aspect is a negation of German nationalism. That it was the Soviets who defeated the Germans at Stalingrad is only a secondary and contingent element for the politics.
The argument that could be made about anti-german "nationalism" would be about US or Israeli vicarious nationalism, but not British (despite the Bomber Harris reference. Like the Stalingrad example, the UK plays only a contingent and secondary role in the position).
Similarities to the US or UK Left? Vicarious nationalism through solidarity with Palestinian suicide bombers or Hezbollah. One could also argue that there is vicarious nationalism on the Left in support of Al Queda, but this is more like the anti-germans' British or Soviet "nationalism". Like I said, Al Queda, the UK, the Soviet Union play(ed) minor, secondary roles and couldn't be called vicarious nationalism, at least in the same way the US/UK Left cheers for Hezbollah, or some of the anti-Germans who supported the US war on Iraq.

Waterloo Sunset said...

Firstly, thank you to both of you for your replies. I think this could lead to an interesting discussion.

Bob-

It seems to me that Platformism imports so much of the baggage of the trad left that anarchism could probably do now with shedding some of Platformism's load, even if its history includes some inspiring figures.Yes. Categorically. Although I'm aware that "Libcomer attacks platformists" isn't really news and there's the whole complicated issue of sectarianism coming into play when I do so.

(I hate them slightly less than Crimethinc. But that's not difficult).

I'm not ready to go as far as the ultra-left communists and suggest that platformism is not a genuine proletarian revolutionary strand within anarchism, but I'll admit I'm starting to see their point.

I don't know enough about them, but I believe there are several levels of hardcore-ness among the Anti-Germans, and that some are orientated to Germany's Eastern enemies (the Red Army, Serbia) and others to Germany's Western enemies (the US, Israel), while some are consistently anti-nationalist.Hmm. If the third strand are prominent enough to have a significant influence on the development anti-German ideology, I'm happy to be corrected, but I've never got the impression that's a particuarly influential strand. (I'll admit freely that I'm in a bit of a difficult position on this, simply because I don't speak German).

CT-

In 2009, references to "the anti-germans" as a homogenous group is quite laughable.The vulgar anti-imps aren't a politically homogenous group either. But I'd still think it's valid to criticise them as a political tendency, wouldn't you?

But sticking with your statement, how does "chanting 'Bomber Harris do it again'" make them nationalists? You're referring to a small group of punk rock teenagers, or leftists who trying to antagonize neo-Nazis, trying to break the victimization complex of post-war Germans. Yeah, there's some DJ that puts Bomber Harris on his flyers. So what.Being "punk rock teenagers" doesn't necessarily absolve people from the political ramifications of their actions. The UK saw "punk rock teenagers" wearing swastikas.

If people are going to go out of their way to shock their parents, I'd rather they painted their bedrooms black and listened to Marilyn Manson as opposed to using the antifascist movement as some kind of therapy.

In response to why its nationalist, its because it rejects any attempt at class analysis of World War 2 in favour of an analysis that fits in with bourgeouise discourse.

But you ask about nationalism. Being that they are Germans making positive references to the British attacks on Nazi Germany, I perceive this as anti-nationalism. Can you explain why you see it as nationalism?Easily. For the same reason that UK leftists who support the IRA are still supporting nationalism. The fact that you support a competing nationalism to the one of your nationstate doesn't mean that you somehow aren't a nationalist.

Technically then, as an American, shouldn't applying the principles you support in Germany lead you to making positive references about 9/11 as an attack on your own nation?

As far as my sympathies to the anti-germans go, once again, you would have to specify what you're referring to. The analysis of nationalism and national socialism, of secondary antisemitism, of antizionism, of anti-imperialism? Those are in my view the strong points.The fact that you agree with much of their analysis and generally would consider them a positive political strand. That qualifies as "supportive", surely?

Waterloo Sunset said...

As far as my sympathies to the anti-germans go, once again, you would have to specify what you're referring to. The analysis of nationalism and national socialism, of secondary antisemitism, of antizionism, of anti-imperialism? Those are in my view the strong points. I take it as a red herring to refer to U.S. flag waving anti-germans, or to supporters of the war on Iraq. That's a minority position I believe (at odds with my own opposition to the war, since you asked), and mostly irrelevant to the broader significance of the anti-german critique.What makes you think it's a minority position? It's certainly prominent enough to have featured in Konkret- "So (anti-Germans) act according to the motto: the enemy of my enemy is my friend" and Bahamas- "Bush -- the Man of Peace!".

Source- http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,2144,2145701,00.html

What I find interesting about this is how structurally similiar it is to the anti-zionists.

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend"
"We are all Hezbollah".

On a more general scale, the anti-Zionists call for the destruction of Israel, specifically. The anti-Germans call for the destruction of Germany, specifically. The communist position is for the destruction of all nationstates. The first two positions are far closer to each other than they are to the third.

I'm not sure how you can see this as irrelevant. Because those that would take the position I've outlined would state, very clearly, that it springs from an anti-German analysis as opposed to being a break from it.

Largely, I don't think the anti-Germans have in any way broken from the baggage of leftism. They've merely bought into a different nationalist myth. (And there's something remarkably ironic about how the anti-Germans seem to place Germany as the central defining point for their politics).

Anyway, a critique of vulgar anti-imp is coming from a variety of voices, and this is reasonable considering that the supposed anti-imperialists who are fighting the US in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, or who are blowing up Hotels and targeting Jews in Mumbai, are basically themselves imperialists who represent no emancipatory alternative.
That this reality would result in the development of a variety of critiques of anti-imperialism, could only be expected.
Certainly. Which leaves us in the position of deciding which critiques are useful and which aren't.

Personally, I'd still rather go with an internationalist proletariat analysis as opposed to lining up with one capitalist faction against another.

contested-terrain said...

The vulgar anti-imps aren't a politically homogenous group either. But I'd still think it's valid to criticise them as a political tendency, wouldn't you?I wouldn't pick out a couple minor groups or a couple flyers from techno parties, and construct an argument against a broad, heterogenous political tendency based on them. If you can show similarities, then go for it.

its nationalist ... because it rejects any attempt at class analysis of World War 2 in favour of an analysis that fits in with bourgeouise discourse.Critique of German nationalism, the German working class' support for national socialism and it's post-"reunification" attacks on refugees, and asylums seekers is bourgeois discourse?

The fact that you agree with much of their analysis and generally would consider them a positive political strand. That qualifies as "supportive", surely?The problem is that you're referring to Bahamas and other marginal groups, and I'm not. References to "their analysis" don't help to sort this out. And in such a case, I am hardly interested in debating "the anti-Germans," which appears to be your interest?
(I don't mean this as a personal attack. I'm simply not interested in a web forum debate on the anti-German critique especially when there's no distinctions made between different tendencies and how this has played out on the broader Left, etc."). Would rather remain with the question of nationalism and anti-nationalism, of which the anti-german critique is in my view very relevant (also for the below example).

"What makes you think it's a minority position?"Because I've lived in Berlin for 3 years and my encounters greatly contrast with the sensationalistic reporting in the english language press. I am not saying that there wasn't anti-German support for the Iraq war. There absolutely was. But the anti-German critique has made it's way though the whole Left spectrum, and has effected it in various ways. The reactionary impulse against it is the defenders of nationalism within the German working class. When the Left Party leader, Lafontaine, was egged at a demo because of his nationalist positions (opposition to refugee rights, skapegoating immigrants for unemployment, economic slump, etc.) his Left Party defenders accused this opposition to German nationalism as being the work of
"militant fanatical followers of the Israeli government and Mossad", disrupting the German working class revolt and undermining the good German social standards with EU neoliberalism, or some other nonsense like that.

"The anti-germans" are, as another observer described, a kind of boogeyman haunting the nationalist Left both in Germany and beyond. Quite funny to watch this play out in the english language left.

The anti-antigerman development occurring now, is a repackaged form of reactionary nationalism and antisemitism.

Waterloo Sunset said...

Critique of German nationalism, the German working class' support for national socialism and it's post-"reunification" attacks on refugees, and asylums seekers is bourgeois discourse?Dividing nationstates into "good and bad" nationstates is bourgeouise discourse. And specifically seeing things as a problem of the "working class" is very much not something developed by the AD. And reasonably telling. We've seen it heavily in the western enviromental movement. Out of interest, in your personal experiences, are the AD (in the broadest sense of the term) largely from working class backgrounds? That's not the impression I've got, I'll be honest. But as you validly point out, you have the personal experience to go on whereas I'm relying entirely on second hand English language sources, so that could be mistaken.

If not though, the idea that the working class of one's own country are inherently reactionary and you need to look to more 'exotic' countries for 'real' communism isn't new among leftists of a middle class background. Hmm. Would it be churlish to suggest the AD can be seen as an offshoot of Maoism?

Would rather remain with the question of nationalism and anti-nationalism, of which the anti-german critique is in my view very relevant (also for the below example).Fair enough. Honestly, I only see the AD as relevant to the question of nationalism and anti-nationalism here because you think their critique is relevant. Largely, I don't think the AD have any relevance outside their own, specifically German, mileau.

When the Left Party leader, Lafontaine, was egged at a demo because of his nationalist positions (opposition to refugee rights, skapegoating immigrants for unemployment, economic slump, etc.) his Left Party defenders accused this opposition to German nationalism as being the work of
"militant fanatical followers of the Israeli government and Mossad", disrupting the German working class revolt and undermining the good German social standards with EU neoliberalism, or some other nonsense like that.
Which is obviously bollocks. To be clear, the fact that I'm not against the sort of pandering to nationalism you outline. Or the antisemitic conspiracy theorising that was used in defence of that nationalism.

And, equally, I'd agree with you that antisemitism is a real issue, both among the left and the anarchist movement.

What I'd query is the conclusions you draw. I suspect we'd agree a lot on the issues I've outlined.

What I'd query is the over emphasis on Israel from both sides of this debate, which is where sections of the AD are relevant I feel. For me, the correct analysis of Israel is that it's just another capitalist state, no better or worse than any of the others.

Waterloo Sunset said...

The anti-germans" are, as another observer described, a kind of boogeyman haunting the nationalist Left both in Germany and beyond. Quite funny to watch this play out in the english language left.

The anti-antigerman development occurring now, is a repackaged form of reactionary nationalism and antisemitism.
Suggesting that AD groups that I've quoted are "marginal", while presenting any opposition to the AD tendency as monolithic strikes me as somewhat contradictory.

To be clear, my criticism of the AD is not based on their opposition to reactionary groups like Hamas (which I share) or their opposition to antisemitism. It's based on the fact that, based on admittedly limited information, this currently is looking like a family dispute within the nationalist Left to me.

And where this ties into Anarkismo is that I think pandering to the idea that some nationalisms are better than others actually makes it harder to effectively criticise the nationalism of many of the platformists. Because, instead of coming at it from an internationalist perspective, we're reduced to having to argue that they're supporting the 'wrong' type of nationalism. (This would equally apply to anarchists who support 'national liberation' movements', naturally).

On nationalism, I'd support the views of Luxemburg against Lenin, despite not being a Marxist.

Put simply, I have seen very few attempts from your side of the debate to try and take on the arguments of the internationalist critique. It seems to be easier to argue with the anti-imps, as opposed to those arguing from a position of absolute, unconditional opposition to all nationstates and nationalisms.

To ask a simple question, would you agree that there is no place for national flags to be carried on a genuinely working class antifascist demonstration?

Mike S. said...

[Apologies if this comment appears twice; the first time I posted it didn't seem to take...]

This is a fascinating conversation. First, C-T, good to see you over here. I find myself in agreement with much of what you have to say, but I think WS is correct that the anti-German critique in general is not anti-nationalist (though there may well be exceptions). To me this seems analogous to the whole critique of vulgar anti-zionism (whether you apply it to me or not) as being exclusively anti-one-nation as opposed to being principled in its anti-nationalism.

I have long personal experience with my own vicarious nationalism, through years of solidarity work with the Puerto Rican independence movement. I still have a lot of respect for this struggle, but it is clear to me now that for several years I was engaged in a form of half-assed anti-nationalism in which I exempted the Puerto Rican struggle from real critique because they were conveniently opposed to "my own" nation (the US). I see a fair number of similarities to this in what I understand of the AD critique. (Though, like WS, I don't read or speak German, and I rely for my information on a combination of the possibly sensationalist english-language media coverage and my own trusted sources on the German left (ie. my brother).)

WS, my main disagreement with your position is with your assertion that “the correct analysis of Israel is that it's just another capitalist state, no better or worse than any of the others.” I would rather strike the word “just”, and replace “no better or worse than any of the others” with the words “better than some and worse than others.” (I stole this formulation from the guy who runs the blog “Oread Daily.”) It is important not to flatten our analysis of nation-states by simply saying all of them are equally bad, because in the absence of further explanation equality becomes a synonym for same-ness, and no two nation-states are quite the same, even though we want to destroy all of them.

For what it’s worth, my politics have been heavily influenced by the “neo-platformist” trend within anarchism, but that doesn’t keep me from disagreeing strongly with a lot of what Wayne and Jose in particular have to say. At the same time, I think the criticisms of a group like the Irish WSM as being soft on (Irish) nationalism are misplaced. I think they do a good job of understanding the appeal of nationalism without giving into it. The major pitfall of hard-line anti-nationalism is its tendency to reduce nationalism to a bourgeois delusion, as if the masses of people all over the world who are motivated by one or another form of nationalism are simply brainwashed dupes. This is a horribly defeatist attitude and needs to be rejected if there is to be any chance to change the world and create a free society. The biggest benefit of my time under the sway of the PR independence movement has been an intimate understanding of the ways in which national identity can thrive even among people who are very aware of its problems.

Finally, Bob, going back way to the top of this thread, yes I have seen the Big Flame website, and am now in touch with one of its curators. Great stuff they’ve put up, and it was nice of them to plug my own (pitifully under-tended) blog so prominently.

Okay, gotta get going for the long weekend here in the States.

Solidarity,
Mike

ModernityBlog said...

Yeah, I remember Big Flame.

I wonder if they'll have the guts to post Steve Cohen's critism of their views?

"Big Flame in its editorial of October 1982 stated that the massacres at Sabra and Chatilla "cannot fail to spark off acts of revenge through-out the world". By "acts of revenge" is meant, presumably, the bombings and other attacks on Jewish institutions and individuals that occurred throughout the diaspora, following the invasion. What is remarkable is that Big Flame seems to think that these are 'natural' or 'inevitable'. The paper seems to consider that Jews who were bombed in, for example, Sydney Australia were legitimate targets—as if by being Jewish they were somehow responsible for what was happening in the Lebanon. It would be interesting to know why Big Flame doesn't think that acts of revenge were inevitable against Christians—given that the Phalangists were at least as responsible as the Israeli government for the massacre. It does explain, however, the complete silence of Big Flame in response to the actual attacks made on diaspora Jewry—they were never mentioned.

Once Jews everywhere are assigned a particular responsibility for what happened in the Lebanon, then other horrific assumptions follow. In particular, it is assumed both that Jews are under a greater moral obligation than anyone else to speak out against the invasion and also that we have to speak out against it explicitly 'as Jews'. Why should we be obliged to speak out 'as Jews' about what is happening in the Middle East any more, for example, than Italians should speak out 'as Italians'? To be accepted as 'good' Jews apparently, the onus is on us to make public disavowals of zionism. Occasionally another hypocrisy creeps in; Jews 'of all people' should know better because of the history of our own oppression (Big Flame editorial, Sept. 1982). This is the ultimate double-standard. Jews are now expected to be on a higher level of morality than anyone else because of the oppression inflicted on us; but if we act immorally, or if any one Jew misbehaves, then we also have to apologise more than anyone else and make public penance. In fact, the theory that our own suffering should have cleansed our souls owes more to the gospels than to Marxism. What our suffering points to is the need to combat anti-semitism. It is no advertisement for the purity of our morals."

http://www.engageonline.org.uk/ressources/funny/chap3.html

contested-terrain said...

hi WS,
Dividing nationstates into "good and bad" nationstates is bourgeouise discourse.It is really not my impression that (the non hardcore) anti-germans do this, at least any more than the rest of the Left.
And specifically seeing things as a problem of the "working class" is very much not something developed by the AD."That's not what they do, at least as far as I've seen. I don't think they see nationalism as a specific problem of the working class, but rather challenge the Left's simplistic assumption of the working class as a naturally emancipatory actor.

I think the soft core anti-germans would probably agree with Mike's reformulation of your statement: “the correct analysis of Israel is that it is better than some capitalist states and worse than others.”
Simultaneously, calls for the elimination of Israel are not matched by calls for the elimination of any other state. And the Left does not see this as problematic, while the anti-deutsch does. They call into question the antisemitic motivations for this, as well as the antisemitic ramifications of such possibilities.
I think that's the reason why the common denominator of the anti-german critique (whether hardcore or softcore) is the defense of Israel as a nation-state, until the threat of annihilation of anti-jewish persecution subsides. And a real possibility arises in which jewish masses may be able to live without physical threat to their lives as Jews.

Out of interest, in your personal experiences, are the AD (in the broadest sense of the term) largely from working class backgrounds?I haven't done a survey, but I would say it's quite mixed. It's also very intergenerational, and the younger generations combine queer politics, feminist politics, and anti-racist politics. Remember, I am using a pretty broad category for what I consider "anti-german." Also, there are very very few people who would identify themselves as such. I go more by my understanding of their political argumentation and cultural expressions. Most of them are so alienated and put off by Bahamas that they don't identify as anti-german, yet thousands of them will surely turn out tomorrow at the anti-national parade against the celebration of the state's 60th birthday celebration.
One of my favorite critiques of the anti-germans, is "Left discourses, antisemitism, racism and gender". Keep in mind it was written in 2002, and much has changed since then, particularly the diversification and cross-fertilization of antigerman critique with other forms of thought, including post-colonialism.

the idea that the working class of one's own country are inherently reactionary and you need to look to more 'exotic' countries for 'real' communism isn't new among leftists of a middle class background.I think the intention of anti-German critique is to critique *ideology*, (I am not an expert on this, but I believe some of them rely on Marx's "Critique of German Ideology") and the calling up certain conceptions of society by social actors, and not an essentialist ascription of a population as bad. (That is, the calling up of "German social market economy" against Wall Street Bankers' "casino capitalism".) I don't see the AG critique as an ascription of those who live Germany as essentially reactionary. Sure, things can get slippy, and certain social nationalist trends within the German population would give anti-nationalist leftists certain perceptions about the population, but I think these are two different things, that of course need to be constantly related to one another.

The exoticization of a foreign population, and the vicarious nationalism, does take place in regard to Israelis, Jews, or the U.S. But these fantasies are often broken by the real experiences they have, in addition to being completely conflicted with their own expressions of antisemitism, antiamericanism, and (yes) unprocessed german nationalism.

contested-terrain said...

To ask a simple question, would you agree that there is no place for national flags to be carried on a genuinely working class antifascist demonstration?That's not a simple question at all!

Waterloo Sunset said...

Mike S-

I have long personal experience with my own vicarious nationalism, through years of solidarity work with the Puerto Rican independence movement. Yeah, I went through something very similar actually, although in my case it was with Irish nationalism. I was heavily influenced by Red Action for quite some time.

And then there's the whole hot potato of whether the Zapatistas are a nationalist movement or not...

WS, my main disagreement with your position is with your assertion that “the correct analysis of Israel is that it's just another capitalist state, no better or worse than any of the others.” I would rather strike the word “just”, and replace “no better or worse than any of the others” with the words “better than some and worse than others.”I think that's an entirely valid criticism of my assertion and I think your formulation is actually better than the one I used.

At the same time, I think the criticisms of a group like the Irish WSM as being soft on (Irish) nationalism are misplaced. I think they do a good job of understanding the appeal of nationalism without giving into itIt's complicated with the WSM. I think a lot of it boils down to what precisely they mean by "grassroots anti imperalist struggles". While not necessarily a support for nationalism, I think it can easily shade into that for obvious reasons. In the context of Northern Ireland, the struggles in question undoubtably have a large nationalist element. That said, I definitely don't think the WSM are as far down those lines as certain other anarchist groups. Class War in particular have often shaded into simple cheerleading for Irish republicanism.

The major pitfall of hard-line anti-nationalism is its tendency to reduce nationalism to a bourgeois delusion, as if the masses of people all over the world who are motivated by one or another form of nationalism are simply brainwashed dupes. This is a horribly defeatist attitude and needs to be rejected if there is to be any chance to change the world and create a free society.I wouldn't disagree with any of that. I'd also differ from many people in that I don't always see certain types of patriotism as a problem. I think there's a obvious danger of them shading into nationalism. But I don't see someone choosing to cheer on their national football team as politically problematic.

In terms of your main point though, I think we have to take the approach I'd always support in this kind of situation. Not treating people as stupid, but equally not hiding our politics or choosing to pander to nationalism so as not to risk alienating people.

Waterloo Sunseet said...

CT-

It is really not my impression that (the non hardcore) anti-germans do this, at least any more than the rest of the Left.I'd totally agree. And there's my problem. I don't follow the 'post-left' critique, by any means. But on nationalism, we need to be better than what passes for left analysis these days. If we're seeing the left as a political baromoter on this issue, our standards are far too low.

I don't think they see nationalism as a specific problem of the working class, but rather challenge the Left's simplistic assumption of the working class as a naturally emancipatory actor.While I agree that the working class don't always act in an emancipatory capacity, I'd still say the working class are the only class with the potential to do so. While I don't think we should reduce every issue to one of class, if we abandon the primacy of a class analysis, we're left with an anarchist movement which is no more than a lifestyle choice.

I think that's the reason why the common denominator of the anti-german critique (whether hardcore or softcore) is the defense of Israel as a nation-state, until the threat of annihilation of anti-jewish persecution subsides. And a real possibility arises in which jewish masses may be able to live without physical threat to their lives as Jews.I can see three main issues with that as a strategy.

Firstly, its undoubtably exceptionalism. What we need to fight and fight heavily is the over emphasis on Israel as somehow unique compared to other nationstates. You can't do that by treating it as unique from the opposite end of the spectrum.

Secondly, it buys into the nationalist myth that nationstates are the best, or even the only, way of protecting a people. That's not a concept I think anarchists should have any truck with. If we do believe that, the logical conclusion should be that we are no longer anarchists.

The final point is more subtle. By talking about Israel as something to be attacked or defended, we treat a nationstate as a monolithic bloc, with a common 'national interest'. And we miss the point that, like all nationstates, Israel is made up of various social forces with conflicting interests. A really good example of that would be the Tel Aviv airport workers wildcat strike. It was very noticable that neither the "anti-zionists" nor the "anti-anti-zionists" had much to say on that subject. In my view, that's because both groups largely see Israel as an abstract entity, and hence are poorly placed to see the relevance of class struggle taking place internally.

That's not a simple question at all!Can you expand? I'm quite possibly being overly simplistic, but the concept that "anti-nationalists shouldn't be carrying national flags" seems pretty self-evident to me.

contested-terrain said...

hi again WS,
While I agree that the working class don't always act in an emancipatory capacity, I'd still say the working class are the only class with the potential to do so. While I don't think we should reduce every issue to one of class, if we abandon the primacy of a class analysis, we're left with an anarchist movement which is no more than a lifestyle choice.I think it is a difference between an analysis of capitalist society as a whole on the one hand, and a class analysis on the other.
I also think we can identify important forms of social change that have occurred not as working class movements in particular, even when these shifts have not overthrown capitalism, they have made significant shifts that I would not discount, and would consider having made emancipatory shifts, even if they haven't brought about the end of capitalist society. I think of the feminist movements, or the US civil rights movement to name just a couple. On the other hand working class movements have also made important changes -- such as the struggle for the 8-hour day -- which have not emancipated society from capitalism, but are likewise significant.

What we need to fight and fight heavily is the over emphasis on Israel as somehow unique compared to other nationstates. You can't do that by treating it as unique from the opposite end of the spectrum.Hmm, I think it the problem is more of which characteristics of the Israeli state are unique and which aren't. In this regard I think the Left mixes things up, focusing on violence and oppression of the "non-nationals" as unique, whereas that is the reality of all (or at least most) nation state formations. And what might be the unique character of Israel -- it's defense against annihilation of the Jewish population -- is denied. I think there is an important mistake made by the Left on this issue as this factor interacts with your next point.
it buys into the nationalist myth that nationstates are the best, or even the only, way of protecting a people.I don't think this logically flows. I think most Jewish Leftists hoped and strove for a universal struggle of emancipation, and turned towards Left Zionism as they realized that as Jews in early 20th century Europe, the universalistic struggle was more of an illusion than a reality.
I think they saw that the european nation-states were not going to protect them as Jews. I think Zionism was more of a secondary option in face of the unrealistic hopes of the first (that european national antisemitism would subside).
European nation states were not the best, nor the only way of protecting them, yet the Jewish state was. So, I think we have to make some differentiations here, based on the historical circumstances. This is not to say that the Jewish state is better than the Polish one, but rather that the former was able to fulfill the basic requirements that (Jewish) people needed when they were deemed the anti-"people" of national europe.
I think one can accept this basic premise without favoring nationalism, and without accepting or endorsing the nationalist battle between the zionists and the Palestinian Arabs on the part of the former (or latter).
I think we could also find other examples (aside from one's to do with the national question) which could help us work through this topic. For example, does the 8-hour work day struggle mean that they supported the State and capitalism, because they were not seeking overthrow of it all? Yes and no. But that is the dialectic of struggle. We have to always make judgments on these questions, and I don't think it is easy. I also object to the abstentionist position. I think there is not one single way of advancing an anti-national, anti-state, and anti-capitalist struggle.

contested-terrain said...

By talking about Israel as something to be attacked or defended, we treat a nationstate as a monolithic bloc, with a common 'national interest'. And we miss the point that, like all nationstates, Israel is made up of various social forces with conflicting interests."Yes, in every "nation" there are classes. That is obvious. Unfortunately, this fact does not negate all the others, in particular that "national enemies" are always constructed, and that flight into the universal, either that of liberalism or communism/socialism/anarchism, is not, at least today, a sure protection against annihilation as that "enemy nation". I am referring of course to the Jews, because of their social-historical situation. I find this very difficult to explain, so I hope some of what I am saying is coherent to you. For a look into this perspective, check out the work of Jean Amery, in his "The Necessity and Impossibility of Being Jewish." Here is a very condensed synopsis:
"If the Jews now see their existence as having been determined by the Holocaust it is [because] they have become the necessary subject of their own drama. "Without the feeling of belonging to the threatened," Améry says, "I would be a self-surrendering fugitive from reality.""

Can you expand? I'm quite possibly being overly simplistic, but the concept that "anti-nationalists shouldn't be carrying national flags" seems pretty self-evident to me.I can try to expand on this, though I don't have a clear position on the matter.
Last year in Berlin there was the annual commemoration of 1938 pogroms ("Kristallnacht"). A survivor explained his story of living through the events, and then he explained the Evian conference of 1938, which was to address the Jewish refugee problem now that Germany annexed Austria and it's imperial expansionism was becoming apparent, and that this meant a crisis for the millions of european Jews. So, which states would open their borders to Jewish refugees? 33 countries attended, and the only one that would open their doors, even for limited immigration was the Dominican Republic. We know the rest of the story.
The ceremony, organized every year by antifascist groups, included 1 or 2 Israeli flags. During the period in which the basic physical survival of the Jews population was at stake, the only option for immigration was British Mandate Palestine.
In this situation, the flag, representing the self-determination movement of the Jews (that is, the zionist flag), doesn't strike me as nationalistic. In this case, it strikes me as having more to do with rebellion against annihilation and national self-determination.
Again, this does not mean that dispossession of the Palestinian Arabs was/is justified, nor I am sure that the display of the zionist flag necessarily affirms that. I think it has more to do with survival, and that the only option for survival was national self-determination. That this had tragic effects on the Palestinians is bound up with it, but in this case, I am not sure the display of that flag was necessarily wrong. I am not sure about this. I just don't think there are easy answers, especially when it comes to such grave issues of annihilation and survival.
I hope this is somewhat coherent.

Waterloo Sunset said...

Hey CT. Firstly, thanks for being prepared to engage this much. I think it's been productive. (On a light-hearted note, it's inspired me to dig out my old Atari Teenage Riot albums. Damn fine band).

I think it is a difference between an analysis of capitalist society as a whole on the one hand, and a class analysis on the other.I'd argue that, to have an effective analysis of capitalist society as a social relationship, it's imperative that our analysis uses a class analysis as our basis. Without that, anarchism merely becomes a lifestyle choice as opposed to an emancipatory movement.

I also think we can identify important forms of social change that have occurred not as working class movements in particular, even when these shifts have not overthrown capitalism, they have made significant shifts that I would not discount, and would consider having made emancipatory shifts, even if they haven't brought about the end of capitalist society. I think of the feminist movements, or the US civil rights movement to name just a couple. On the other hand working class movements have also made important changes -- such as the struggle for the 8-hour day -- which have not emancipated society from capitalism, but are likewise significant.I'd see the the civil rights movement as very much being a working class movement. The feminist movement is more complicated. I'd totally agree that real and worthwhile gains were made. But a lot has been written by working class feminists about the issues caused by the lack of class analysis and the largely middle class nature of the feminist movement. Liberal feminism is the most extreme example of that problem. At the end of the day, I'm highly dubious that getting a few more females into the boardroom had any positive effects for working class women.

On something of a tangent, speaking of the analysis of capitalism, I'd have the following (somewhat underdeveloped) critique of the critique of a finance-centric analysis of capitalism.

I'd certainly agree that it's bad theory and very myopic. It focuses on one strand of capitalism rather than seeing it as a social relationship. It also can lead to conspiracy theorising, including antisemitic ones.

However, I think that to describe it as de facto "structurally antisemitic" is unhelpful to our understanding. There are groups that take this analysis that you'd be hardpressed to find antisemitism in their analysis, structural or otherwise. ATTAC would spring to mind here. I actually think it muddies the waters in the fight against antisemitism. When people make antisemitic statements or use an antisemitic analysis, we should be stating that outright, without qualifiers. And I think that to argue that bad analysis is necessarily "structually antisemitic" actually trivalises the issue of antisemitism.

The other issue I'd have is that many of the adherents to the critique I've outlined seem to also depersonalise capitalism. Capitalism is no conspiracy. But the ruling class are not ciphers or symbols, they are individuals. In the same way, fascism is a political movement, but I don't see that as a reason not to attack its leaders. While we obviously need to be very careful about anything resembling 'propaganda of the deed', I don't think any individualisation of capitalism is problematic by definition. And, similarily, I don't think it needs to shade into antisemitism. I see no evidence that it did so with Lucy Parsons (who's one of my main political infuences).

Waterloo Sunset said...

I think we could also find other examples (aside from one's to do with the national question) which could help us work through this topic. For example, does the 8-hour work day struggle mean that they supported the State and capitalism, because they were not seeking overthrow of it all?That's a different kind of struggle I think. That's a struggle for better conditions within capitalism, as opposed to a struggle for capitalism. Whereas a struggle for a nationstate is incompatible with struggling against the very concept of the nationstate, at least for me.

Hmm, I think it the problem is more of which characteristics of the Israeli state are unique and which aren't. In this regard I think the Left mixes things up, focusing on violence and oppression of the "non-nationals" as unique, whereas that is the reality of all (or at least most) nation state formations. And what might be the unique character of Israel -- it's defense against annihilation of the Jewish population -- is denied.I'd agree that the circumstances that led to Israel being set up were unique. In the sense that the Holocaust was very much unique, both in terms of the scale and the systematic nature of the atrocity. (The only genocide I'd see as even similar enough to draw parallels with is the Armenian one and that in no way diminishes the Holocaust's unique nature). However, I'd see Israel as it is today as very typical as far as liberal democracies go. I do think we need to be very careful with Israel specifically, because of the unique character you outline. In particular, I think anti-statists are beholden to start from a position that recognises that the existence of Israel is very much seen as a matter of safety and security for many Jews, both within Israel and without. In a way I don't think applies to many other nationstates.

European nation states were not the best, nor the only way of protecting them, yet the Jewish state wasHmm. This would seem to me to very much suggest that states are sometimes a positive development. And if we're going to apply that to the Jewish state, surely it may also be true in other cases? It's certainly a valid position, I just fail to see how we can consider it an anarchist or internationalist one.

I also object to the abstentionist position. I think there is not one single way of advancing an anti-national, anti-state, and anti-capitalist struggle.True. (I'd say we should support grassroots working class struggles where we can, but I don't think that's a single way as such). However, I think we're in dangerous territority. Because the rejection of abstentionism and the view that we need to be 'pragmatic' as opposed to ideological is precisely the same argument that leads to the vulgar anti-imps arguing that we need to support Hamas in the current political climate, regardless of their ideological nature...

Waterloo Sunset said...

Yes, in every "nation" there are classes. That is obvious. Unfortunately, this fact does not negate all the others, in particular that "national enemies" are always constructed, and that flight into the universal, either that of liberalism or communism/socialism/anarchism, is not, at least today, a sure protection against annihilation as that "enemy nation".Surely there is no sure protection against annihilation in the modern age? And, equally, a nationstate is no protection against exploitation. In fact, in the case of Israel specifically, the opposite is arguably true. The construction of the argument "defend Israel" by its nature suggests that the Israeli working class have more in common with their rulers than 'foreign' working class people. That's no more true in Israel than elsewhere.

"If the Jews now see their existence as having been determined by the Holocaust it is [because] they have become the necessary subject of their own drama. "Without the feeling of belonging to the threatened," Améry says, "I would be a self-surrendering fugitive from reality.""That's an interesting article, thank you. And I take it on board. I would point out however that most of the negation of class struggle within Israel takes place outside of it, not internally.

In this situation, the flag, representing the self-determination movement of the Jews (that is, the zionist flag), doesn't strike me as nationalistic. In this case, it strikes me as having more to do with rebellion against annihilation and national self-determination.With you. On reflection, I think I was painting with too broad a brush here. I don't think we should police the anti-fascist movement and exclude any with nationalist sympathies from our demonstrations. I do think that anyone who carries a national flag is not an anarchist or a communist and we should refuse to accept it if they claim to be so.

contested-terrain said...

hey WS,
glad our discussion got you digging through your record collection. it got me mopping the kitchen floor.

bob,
hope you´re not too bothered by us taking over your blog.

i agree with you WS, that the discussion has been productive. not sure when i will be able to reply as my week is packed. but glad to know that there is a growing circle of radical leftists who are grappling with these issues in nondogmatic ways, and pushing the envelope, in a self-critical way.

bob said...

Of course I don't mind you using this blog in this way! It's been a pleasure. I've learnt a lot and changed my views back and forth. One thing I've been wondering about is the extent to which we are obliged to start with the troubles in our own back yard, the injustices in our "own" countries, and the extent to which engagement with distant troubles find it hard to avoid the trap of exoticising. Another is the extent to which we are obliged to start with our "own" countries' nationalism, given the difficulty of concretely confronting nationalism in general.

I also agree with Mike on the difference between nationalism and patriotism (a distinction drawn by both Orwell and Rudolf Rocker), and that the latter can be potentially positive as well as negative. Ross' points above relate mainly, I think, to anarchism's failure to reckon with patriotism.

And the other thing I've been trying to think through is the way in which antisemitism so often takes the form today of focusing on Israel as a nation, and how this leads me to a reflex of anti-anti-Zionism, which is hard to articulate without falling into a mirror form of exceptionalism, but which nonetheless seems important and necessary.

bob said...

P.s. just noticed that Max Dunbar makes the same point about patriotism vs nationalism and that Waterloo Sunset agrees.

Jim Denham said...

Yes: amongst some folk (commonly known as anti-semites), Jews will *never* be allowed their own state or normal relations with their neighbours:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/may/26/israel-palestinian-jewish-netanyahu