From Ambivalence to Betrayal – 4

12 Dec

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Left vs. Right

An obvious objection to all this talk about Karl Marx (and the Bolshevik revolutionaries who did so much damage in his name) in the context of a discussion of Left-wing anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is that it continues to allow current inheritors of this ideology to claim to speak for the Left as a whole.

This is actually not just a strong, but a profound argument which I plan to get to shortly.  But not before covering the Betrayal portion of the story described so well in Robert Wistrich’s From Ambivalence to Betrayal.

Wistrich traces the ambivalence theme in the first two sections of his book (which covers the hundred years between Marx’s On the Jewish Question and the birth of the Jewish state) through a series of stories of the people who set the agenda for these ideological and political disputes.

Through brief intellectual histories of people such as Franz Mehring, Bernard Lazare, and Karl Kautsky (not to mention more well known names such as Karl Marx, Rose Luxmburg and Leon Trotsky) we can see how different individuals and groups grappled with Jews insisting on expressing their political aspirations by carving out their own portion of the labor movement (the Jewish Bund) or by  developing a national consciousness (the Zionists), rather than just folding themselves into a theoretical classless society through assimilation.

Many (although by no means all) of these revolutionaries were, like Marx, estranged Jews which might explain the extreme hostility they displayed when having to confront specific Jewish concerns.  But simple politics can explain other elements of Left-wing hostility to Jewish particularism, such as Lenin’s willingness to entertain the national rights of Czechs  and Poles (but not Jews) since national agitation among the former could help him achieve his goal of overthrowing the Russian Czarist state, while the later were more useful providing assimilated foot soldiers for the Revolution.

The fact that almost all the Jews who threw their lot in with Communism were murdered either before, during or after the Soviet takeover of Russia (mostly by their Comrades) demonstrates just how wrong they were with regard to the fate of the Jews after the Revolution.  But while Stalin relied as much on Russian nationalism (which included deep rooted anti-Semitism) to force industrialize the USSR and get the nation through World War II, there was a brief window where state-sponsored anti-Jewish bigotry was not allowed to impact the Soviet Union’s Machiavellian geopolitics.

This is why the Soviets supported creation of the State of Israel in 1948 (and allowed their emerging satellite of Czechoslovakia to provide the Jewish state with its few arms).  For at the time, the Jews seem most poised to disrupt the status quo in the region, a status quo that involved an exhausted Britain trying to hold onto an Empire it no longer had the power, resources or will to continue controlling.

To a large extent, this bet paid off.  For while Zionism is no longer talked about as a revolutionary movement amongst the Left, it was the example of Israel throwing off the yoke of imperial rule (while Arab opponents such as Jordan continued to ally themselves with the fading British Empire) that inspired other Third World peoples to similarly reject European rule and form their own nations.

The irony is that once those nations were formed, many threw their lot in with the new empire on the block: a Soviet Union that had mastered the ability to propagandize about creating a worker’s paradise at home and liberating people abroad, while they were actually building the world’s largest prison camp internally and exporting their soldier’s, propagandists and secret police forces around the globe to create a new imperial holdings.

It was during this post-war period that we get to what Wistrich refers to as “Betrayal.”  For once they had pocketed their gains by exploiting Israel’s usefulness in cracking British rule in the region, the Soviets quickly switched their allegiance to Israel’s Arab foes (as well as many other emerging states) to create the world we know today where cynical exploitation of the language of human rights and freedom is coupled with brutal repression at home and aggression abroad.

For the first two decades after 1948, the language of hostility was still driven by the fading monarchs and emerging military dictators of the Arab world who insisted their goal was to “throw the Jews into the sea.”  But after the 1967 Six Day War, the propaganda we see today took full flower as the real issues in the region (human rights abusing Arab tyrannies refusing to allow a Jewish presence to exist in the Middle East) was turned on its head to claim that it was the Jews who were refusing to allow an Arab (Palestinian) presence in their midst.

Given that discussion of Palestinian and general Arab responsibility for their own fate is now off limits in discussion of the Middle East within far-left circles (a mode of discussion that has, to a certain extent, gone mainstream), we can see how successful this new propaganda message has been.

But the sheer vehemence of hostility towards the Jewish state expressed by the Soviets, their allies and (today) the post-Soviet far Left, cannot entirely be explained by opportunism or realpolitik.  Annual condemnations of Israel in a Soviet (and now Arab League/OIC) dominated UN are one thing.  But turning such condemnations into an hourly ritual, and coupling these with political language and imagery that would have found a home in Der Stermer represents something else entirely.

This something else might simply be the mutation of the anti-Semitic virus which once condemned Jews as a religion then as a race, now turning on them as a nation.

But as the core of the Communist belief system (the imminence of world revolution driven by the working classes) vanished as those working classes refused to budge (or – as in Germany – joined decidedly un-Marxist mass movements), something had to fill this void.

For a while, there were attempts to have the masses of the Third World take over the role that was originally to be played by the industrial proletariat (even if this meant turning that industrial proletariat from the engine of progressive revolution to part of the machinery of global repression).

But as even this hope evaporated with the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was little left for Marxist believers to actually believe in.  Which may explain why a certain vanguard continues to deny so much objective reality and use the aggressive and ruthless tactics that emerged during the Age of Ideologies to propel forward the only thing left of their once eternal and global agenda: that Israel Must Go.

Concluded…

Series Navigation<< From Ambivalence to Betrayal – 3From Ambivalence to Betrayal – Fini >>

2 Responses to “From Ambivalence to Betrayal – 4”

  1. Brian Goldfarb December 14, 2012 at 12:07 pm #

    To add to your reading list, have you read:
    “Israel and the European Left: Between Solidarity and Delegitimization” by Colin Shindler, published at the end of last year. It covers much the same ground, but, as the title suggests, focuses a little more directly on Israel, rather than the left in general. A good read.

    The Wistrich is now on my list, but will have to wait until the current pile has gone down a little!

  2. Brian Goldfarb December 14, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

    Thank you for this mini-series.

    Re PEPs, how about labeling the BDSers, etc, as PNEPs? Progressives for Nothing Except Palestinians (or Palestine, vary according to taste). When they look askance, ask why they don’t take their attitudes towards Israel and apply it equally to (take a deep breath and start to reel off your list of undesirable regimes)…

    The BDSers, etc, will of course interrupt and insist on the peculiar nastiness of Israel and only Israel – that is, they are being relative as to the desirability of questioning breaches of human rights by anyone other than Israel. We should interrupt back and start demanding evidence, again and again and again and…After all, when they yell “pinkwashing” (or whatever) in our ears, we’re not expected to riposte “prove it”.

    And we should, every time. We have evidence on our side. If they are so convinced that their case goes beyond ideology, they shouldn’t be afraid to produce evidence on their side.

    I think we should be as vehement in our demands for their evidence as they are in refusing to provide it, relying, instead, on repetition of slogans.

    Not good enough, by them.

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