October 26, 2010

Platypus and "Anti Deutsch" pitching to serve capitalism in the 21st century

The Platypus Society, which, as far as I can tell, is the left-wing version of "The Society of Creative Anachronisms," (except that, instead of organizing Chivalric tournaments, they dress up as Rosa Luxemburg and talk themselves silly), has recently assumed the thankless task of plugging a gaping hole in the repertoire of Anglo-Saxon revolutionary thinking by translating a masterpiece of late German "après-guerre" philistinosophy. The text in question, Communism and Israel, is a testament to the eternal failure of the imagination to scale the bottom of human stupidity. It can be read in its entirety on their website.

You should read it. Seriously. Read it! It's unique. I'm not going to quote a passage. Please go to the platypus website and read the damn thing before you move to the next paragraph, in which I will entertain you with some reflections about it.

Have you read it? Seriously! Read it! Read it! Ok. Fine! I'll pretend that you've read it.

Now we can "analyze" it. By this I do not mean that we should hope to understand it. As Avital Ronell points out, there is something in stupidity that escapes analysis, something that confounds any attempt at thinking it through. Nor do I mean that we should explain it, perhaps by reference to the particular experience of living in the shadow of the defeat of Hitler, the shadow of that enemy who, according to Benjamin, "has not ceased to be victorious." Such an explanation, were we to try, could only be a caricature of materialism, given the schematic limits of our knowledge of the authors of this "Scheiße an und für sich" (Marx), other than that they live in the shadow of the defeat of Hitler, and that they are stupid. No, all I can do is tease a few threads from the text, the way a cat would undo an piece of fabric.

Let us begin with a simple question of historical literacy. Do the authors know anything about Israel and its history? Israel, according to them, is the bane of the left. Why? Because of purely conceptual reasons. Israel defies historical-analytical categories. Now, what are these categories Israel defies? Which historical analyses do the authors challenge? Nada! Our authors, so eager to show their brilliant capacity to think outside the box, speak of Israel as if nothing was ever written about it. Instead, they bang their empty cranium against "History" and marvel at the hollow sound they hear.
Israel’s existence is the bane of the Left. This is primarily because this state and this nation cannot be regarded in the terms of the anti-colonial revolutions or movements of national liberation, unless one wants to understand as such the (undoubtedly) terrorist activities of Menachem Begin’s Zionist Irgun against the British prior to Israel’s founding. Israel, the “tautological nation” as it is termed by Bahamas, magazine of the anti-German left, is an anomaly in general: It fits no scheme in the philosophy of history and expresses no recognizable political interest, whether of the bourgeoisie and their intellectual henchmen or of the Left and its theorists.
Should we mention just how unexceptional the "anomaly" of the Irgun fighting the Brits is in the history of "movements of national liberation" of settler colonial societies? Didn't the Boers fight the British? Didn't the North American colonies fight the British? Didn't the South American settler states fight national wars of liberation against Spain? Didn't the "pieds noirs" of Algeria fight against the Gaullist state?

As for the absence of a recognizable political interest, apart from the interest of the British Empire in securing their passage to India, the interest of the inter-war European bourgeoisie in the "emerging market" of Palestine, the interest of the French state in an ally for their Algerian problem, the interest of the rising US power in defeating Arab nationalism, followed by the interests of US corporations in selling weapons and pushing up the price of oil, apart from the interest of the neoliberal vanguard of Europe/US in pumping up the "War of Civilizations," and in having a training school for their immigration police, apart from the interests of the culture industry in burnishing the sentimental memories of the "good war" in order to provide its disenchanted democracy with a simulacrum of heroic legitimacy, apart from the interests of the "New Class" of soldiers and bureaucrats who established Israel to engage in perpetual wars in order to deflect political demands from the North African immigrants, apart from the interests of real estate speculators and petty bourgeois contractors to buy, build, and sell housing units in the colonies, apart from all these interests and a few more that it would take a library shelf to go through at this pace, really, nothing about Israel fits a recognizable political interest.

But enough with this flogging! Have some pity! Since with stupidity we are dealing, we should be looking for repetition (you call yourself stupid when you make the same mistake two or three times in a row.) Furthermore, the stupid gesture par excellence is the gesture that repeats exactly that which the gesturer wants to suppress, like offending an important guest after practicing what to say for the whole evening. Since our authors are obsessed with the alleged antisemitism of the Left, in particular the anti-Zionist left, it would not be without merit to note that the two gestures of repetition that structure the text (not the argument, as there is none, but the verbiage, as we shell see, is not random), repeat, first, the original gesture of Christian judeophobia, and second, German, European antisemitism.

Antisemitism is a modern phenomenon. But judeophobia becomes a factor of oppression to Jews when Christianity becomes an imperial state religion. The origins of that is the Christian identitarian gesture that allegorizes itself as "true Judaism." It is not the political gesture of St. Paul to refer to Christ's followers as "circumcised according to the spirit", thus downgrading circumcised Jews to the status of those who are merely "circumcised according to the Flesh." But the elevation of Christianity through its relation with the state into the anti-political allegorical truth of Judaism. This gesture, which made Christian religious identification dependent on the aggressive denigration of Judaism, creates the condition sine qua non for the oppression of Jews in Christian Europe.

What is then the relation between the two terms of the title, Communism and Israel, according to our authors?
..in Israel, between the unbearable old conditions (the threat of annihilation) and the not-yet-achieved new conditions (the society sans domination), we find exactly the epitome of what was once known and inscribed on red banners as the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” the organized political force for emancipation through revolution.
But what to do with the fact that the "dictators" are, ahmmm, quite bourgeois and capitalist in every recognizable aspect, what with Israel being the second most unequal society in the industrial world, and what with the annoyance that people who, in most details except language, recall the (communist) partisans of the European forest, are being shot by Israeli helicopter gunships?
...the only way open to Sharon as a general was to fight in the anti-fascist struggle. This is so because communism as a stateless and classless world society demands, if it is to succeed at all, something impossible: Revenge for the dead, for the victims of barbarism, even as it demands justice for the living, that everybody be treated in accordance with their own character. Only in this manner can communism be realized as envisioned in the maxim, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” From this perspective, Israel is the armed attempt to reach communism alive.
A short detour: our brave authors read Walter Benjamin only to kill him a second time, this time with a stick to his heart. Instead of the victory of the oppressed being the realization of a redemptive recognition across time, the condition of liberation becomes the necrophiliac obsession with vengeance. For all the animus against mass culture, this is "revolution" stuck at the level of V for Vendetta. Instead of liberation being the best vengeance, vengeance becomes the never fulfillable (impossible) condition of liberation, and therefore also its katechon, the alibi for the infinite suspension of communism. (There is also a new mean-spirited addition to the communist "constitution," one having all the fingerprints of Tony Blair's welfare policies, "to each according to their character.") Since communism demands, we are told, something impossible, at least literally, one assumes the authors thank God that we aren't going to see it anytime soon (or, as St. Augustine put it in his prayers, "make me chaste, O Lord, but not yet.")

But let's continue. Bourgeois, capitalist Israel, a society with thriving stock markets, masses of hungry children and even privatized prisons, is the “dictatorship of the proletariat". The figure of speech here is unmistakably the allegory. The "text" of reality doubles to create a new text that is the hidden meaning, the truth, of itself, just as Christianity is the "truth" of Judaism.

When Sharon murdered scores of villagers in their sleep in Qibya, we can say that the authors might see, like the rest of us, "in the flesh," the emissary of a new Israeli bourgeoisie defending the newly established property relations after the dispossession of the Palestinian peasantry. But "in the spirit" Sharon is a Shtetl Jew taking vengeance against the Nazis. The historical dialectical verbiage is camouflage, a Potemkin village of words to hide that this is not a description of a process (that would be absurd, how could the Nazis end up in Qibya) but merely one crude allegory. Israel, which provides "revenge for the dead," is "the armed attempt to reach communism alive," from which follows that the historic form of communism, communism that deals with liberation of the oppressed rather than with vengeance, must lead to death. Or, in other words, literally, "communism killeth", but communism in the spirit i.e., communism that is completely bourgeois in all its aspects, completely allied with the imperialist states, i.e., Zionism, "vivifies." Bourgeois, capitalist Israel is communism (according to the spirit), which makes figures such as George Habash and Matzpen, for example, communist only "according to the flesh." The Palestinians, an oppressed indigenous people in the flesh, become Nazis according to the spirit.

Put otherwise, this is the manifesto of people who want to retain the appearance of an old revolutionary faith while making themselves available as priests of a new imperial religion. Not very original.

There is one more repetition to consider.
...Israel is the only state in the world that can claim for itself an indubitable legitimacy...
Now, let's pretend we agree that a certain threshold of past victimhood renders all criticism of one's actions absurd. Still, why is Israel "the only state" that gathers victims of a terrible historical persecution? What about, at least, Haiti? Haiti, the first and the only state established by liberated slaves, why doesn't it qualify? Let's review the possible answers, one by one, remembering that they are not mutually exclusive.

  1. Haiti not being particularly useful for imperialism, and not therefore having a regime that all major European powers defend, the authors do not believe that mentioning Haiti will earn them the gratitude of the establishment. The problem with this reasoning is that mentioning Haiti would have made them look (slightly) less crazed.
  2. Slavery doesn't pass the threshold of suffering that qualifies a people to have an absolute carte blanche to commit any crime whatsoever. The problem with this interpretation is that it is incomplete. What then are the criteria, and why aren't they explicated?
  3. Only Jewish history of victimhood creates the appropriate level of suffering that can justify anything. The problem is, again, why?
  4. The authors' knowledge of geography doesn't reach as far as Haiti.
  5. Jews are European, and some of them spoke German.
  6. Jews make these German authors feel very very guilty. Haitians do not. Why? Perhaps because none of the grandparents of the authors had slaves.
This last is my preferred hypothesis. It incorporates most other explanations. for example, it incorporates the fact that Jews (those who count) are Europeans. And it incorporates the narrow geographic reach of the authors' political imaginary. Furthermore, it explains not just the omission of Haiti but the whole hallucinogenic quality of the full text. Indeed it alone explains how dismissive to the point of insanity the authors are of all other victims of systemic violence, and most notably of Palestinians.

Israel is thus special because Europe/Germany is special, and Israel is the country of the Europeans victims of Europe. This interpretation has the benefit that is casts a much wider net than captures this putrid text alone. It was Aimé Césaire's point about the nature of the European reaction to the holocaust, which the authors probably didn't read because Césaire was neither Jewish nor German. Had they read it they might have understood that Césaire knew them already before they knew themselves:
Yes, it would be worthwhile to study clinically, in detail, the steps taken by Hitler and Hitlerism and to reveal to the very distinguished, very humanistic, very Christian bourgeois of the twentieth century that without his being aware of it, he has a Hitler inside him, that Hitler which inhabits him, that Hitler is his demon, that if he rails against him, he is being inconsistent and that, at bottom, what he cannot forgive Hitler for is not the crime in itself, the crime against man, it is not the humiliation of man as such, it is the crime against the white man, the humiliation of the white man, and the fact that he applied to Europe colonialist procedures which until then had been reserved exclusively for the Arabs of Algeria, the “coolies” of India, and the “niggers” of Africa. (Discourse on Colonialism)
Israel is thus a European affair, whereas Haiti is far away, the people there have dark skin, and they are outside the history that matters, that is, European history. Another way to put it is that, what makes Israel special and therefore inherently legitimate for the authors is their own guilt-ridden narcissistic investment in Eurocentric racism. However, that Haiti (and Palestine) are outside that European history merely repeats the antisemitic gesture that, a century ago, put Jews outside European history, that is put them in Palestine, which might as well have been Haiti, thus preparing the ground for both Zionism and Auschwitz. The logic of the Anti-Deutsch guilt trip is the logic of the dream sequence, in which, as Freud remarked, negation doesn't exist. The anti in Anti-Deutsch is in fact an 'equal' sign between Zionism and Eurocentric white supremacy.

ADDEENDUM: the above was written after a very cursory visit to the Platypus habitat. I thought it would be useful to read their load of imported Scheißeon its own sick terms, because the racism is patent even on its own putrid assumptions that the world turns on antisemitism.

However, Louis Proyect did a much more thorough inspection of the worm infested intellectual food they offer their clientele. It turns out, shockingly, that the sucking up that is at the heart of the Anti-deutsch article they published is also very much their trademark. Who wouldve guessed!?


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