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Fascism wasn’t needed

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 04/11/2021 - 3:36am in

The attack on the US Capitol Building gave new impetus to an ongoing media debate over whether Donald Trump (and others like him) should be called a fascist. There is a limit to how fruitful debates like this can be, of course. There is no simple rule on how we can use a word. The question is why we want to use it.

Many of those who push for the “fascist” label think it’s the best chance of mobilising people to take a political threat seriously. Nick Cohen argues somewhat along these lines.

On the other hand, many of those who resist the label believe that the wrong diagnosis will lead to the wrong treatment. In this piece, the historian Richard J. Evans points out ways in which Trump differs from Hitler and Mussolini and warns:

rather than fighting the demons of the past — fascism, Nazism, the militarised politics of Europe’s interwar years — it is necessary to fight the new demons of the present: disinformation, conspiracy theories and the blurring of fact and falsehood.

It was pointed out to me that Evans fails to mention racism in this connection. That is a troubling oversight. For many, that is the heart of the Trumpist threat and the main reason for conjuring the demons of the past around it. In How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, the philosopher Jason Stanley writes:

The dangers of fascist politics come from the particular way in which it dehumanizes segments of the population. By excluding these groups, it limits the capacity of empathy among other citizens, leading to the justification of inhumane treatment, from repression of freedom, mass imprisonment, and expulsion to, in extreme cases, mass extermination.

Stanley is aware that “many kinds of political movements involve such a division; for example, Communist politics weaponizes class divisions”. But, he goes on, fascist politics specifically creates division by “appealing to ethnic, religious, or racial distinctions”.

His book is mostly about contemporary movements. Almost all the references to historical fascism, however, are to National Socialism. The first chapter, on appeals to “the mythic past” and traditional family values, quotes a Mussolini speech — “we have created our myth”. But the myth referred to by Mussolini is not explicitly linked with the past. And Mussolini’s fascism, while it emphasised tradition, presented itself as driving forward into the future more than falling back into the past. Mussolini supported traditional values only insofar as they served his religion of the State, and his support was transparently pragmatic.

By contrast, Stanley is able to draw on a wealth of Nazi statements to support his characterisation. He has Alfred Rosenberg directly referring to Germany’s “mythical past” (the same as Luther had done). He has Gregor Strasser and Paula Siber celebrating traditional gender roles. Etc. For Nazism, his story makes perfect sense.

This pattern continues throughout the book. When Stanley seeks historical precursors to the type of fascism he describes, the best fit is always with the Nazis. References to other types of fascism are rare and on points of extreme abstraction, for instance an Italian fascist magazine is quoted saying that: “The mysticism of Fascism is the proof of its triumph”.

Why is this important? What distinguished Nazi fascism was the foundational character of its racism. Mussolini exploited racism, but again he thought that each nation should promote its own ideal racial type, leading to an endless struggle – struggle is the very essence of human history, blah blah blah. The Nazis thought that the world should be dominated by one racial type. Their goal was not endless struggle for its own sake but a final resolution of perfect domination — a pax Aryana.

This is important because there was one historical example that particularly inspired and emboldened them. It was the example of the United States of America.

Carroll Kakel’s book, The American West and the Nazi East, documents how Hitler’s doctrine of Lebensraum was an imitation of the American conquest of its Western frontier. The extermination of the Slavs was conceived in imitation of the extermination of North America’s native population. It showed the Nazis what Aryan peoples could achieve. Similarly, James Whitman’s Hitler’s American Model examines how the Nuremberg Laws were modelled on the Jim Crow laws and, more generally, how the idea of codifying racial domination into law was inspired by American examples. Americans might be surprised to learn that in some cases the Nazis found the model too extreme. Stanley also documents the American precursors to fascist tactics, drawing on W.E.B. Du Bois’ descriptions of paramilitary violence and segregationist laws in Black Reconstruction in America. Nor is it simply that the ideas that inspired the Nazis reside in America’s past. As Sandy Darity and Kirsten Mullen argue, many times the nation was presented with a subsequent opportunity to partially right the wrongs of the past, a different path was taken instead.

Given this, I wonder how the word “fascism” functions in America’s self-awareness.

“Fascism” is a very European-sounding word. It was invented by an Italian and inspired by an image from the Roman Empire — the most European of all institutions. But the elements of Trumpism that most resonate with Nazism were in America long before — that is, to some extent, where the Nazis got the idea. One danger in Americans using the term “fascism” is that it allows them to write off their own philosophies as foreign imports.

The truth is that, for dehumanization of segments of the population, fascism wasn’t needed. Even if we follow Robert Paxton’s suggestion and trace the birth of fascism to the Ku Klux Klan, the Klan were formed to enforce a racial contract signed long before they appeared. We could consider Jamelle Bouie’s suggestion that “Colonial domination and expropriation marched hand in hand with the spread of ‘liberty,’ and liberalism arose alongside our modern notions of race and racism”. The racial dehumanisation that inspired fascists preceded them. It didn’t require suspension of the rule of law; it was built into the rule of law. It didn’t require an attack on democracy; it was popular with voters. It didn’t require demagogues with explosive rhetoric; staid bureaucrats and ‘safe pairs of hands’ did the job just fine. Get rid of fascism, and you can keep most of what is blamed on it, since those things were there long before it.

Many of the mob that stormed the Capitol Building were inspired by Nazis. Many were adorned in Nazi symbolism. Many, no doubt, turned excited images of the Beer Hall Putsch over in their minds. But to see the building invaded by forces inspired by some Germanic ideology is to forget that this ideology borrowed plans conceived within that very building.

I’m not accusing those who use the term “fascist” of forgetting this. But still I worry about the effects of the term. Most people, when they hear “fascism” think of Hitler. You can hardly hear the term without drawing the little moustache in your mind. Fewer will think of Jim Crow or the Klan. Fewer again will think of Andrew Jackson and the Manifest Destiny.

And is fascism really the problem? Not only does the word sound foreign; the system is top-down. The fasces image represents strength in unity. The fasces with the axe — the version favoured by Mussolini — denotes what the Romans called a dictator. A dictator, at least in the popular imagination, imposes his will from above. Hitler is the dictator to whom the dehumanising racism of the Third Reich — with its forced labour, mass imprisonment, and extermination — can be traced, rightly or wrongly.

But what about the dehumanising acts permitted and imposed in America’s history? These were not brought in by dictators wielding emergency powers. They bubbled up from the bottom rather than being imposed from the top. They were brought in through the constitution and the rule of law, not by suspensions of it. What the Axis powers wanted, of course, was the sort of empire that the Allies had acquired without fascism.

It is possible, I submit, that we commit these sorts of acts because we want to, not because some political system drives us to them. We don’t need any ideology either. People just like this stuff; it’s a crowd-pleaser. In any case, fascism isn’t needed to prompt it. In fact, when fascists tried to emulate the American example, they ultimately failed. Fascism may well have got in the way.

Telling the truth about genocide and totalitarian terror

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 31/10/2021 - 3:11am in

Tags 

fascism, genocide


A central question in the past year or so in Understanding Society is how historians and philosophers should confront the evils of the twentieth century. It seems clear that studying these processes fully and honestly is a key part of the answer, both for scholars and for ordinary citizens. We need to confront the truth about ugly facts about our history. In his documentary article "Treblinka as Hell" Vasily Grossman tries to express why it is important to speak honestly about the facts of mass murder and genocide.

It is the duty of a writer to tell the truth however gruelling, and the duty of the reader to learn the truth. To turn aside, or to close one's eyes to the truth is to insult the memory of the dead. The person who does not learn the whole truth will never understand what kind of enemy, what sort of monster, our great Red Army is waging battle against to the death. (399)

But telling the truth about acts of genocide, atrocities, and state crimes is not easy. This is partly true for reasons of psychology and identity -- as LaCapra has argued, the horrors of the Holocaust are locations of trauma, and trauma is difficult to confront (link). But there is a more material barrier to truth-telling when it comes to genocide and state repression: the states and groups that commit or collaborate in these atrocities are very interested in preventing knowledge of their crimes to become public. And they are generally very willing to use coercion, violence, and massive deception against those who attempt to learn the truth and make it public. Truth-telling, therefore, can be career-ending or life-ending.

This situation was especially acute during the years of Soviet dictatorship in the USSR and its dependent states in Eastern Europe, and most pointedly for writers. Anyone who lived in these countries in the 1930s through the 1980s knew a great deal about the facts of dictatorship, arbitrary arrest, state lies, and the prison camps in the Gulag. But writing openly and honestly about these facts -- or even whispering about them to trusted friends -- could lead to arrest and imprisonment or death. So how could gifted and principled authors deal with this contradiction during Soviet times? 

A substantial number of writers during the Soviet era became willing accomplices in the ideology, propaganda, and crimes of Stalinism (and the Leninist regime that preceded). But some did not. And many who did not, did not survive the purges of 1938 and later years. 

There were a few noteworthy exceptions -- writers who maintained a degree of independence and honesty, but whom good fortune permitted to survive. Consider for example Mikhail Sholokhov, a highly prominent writer from the Cossack region of the Ukraine whose Don novels became among the most popular fiction throughout the period; who became a close confidant of Stalin; and yet who persisted in expressing the suffering of the peasants of the Ukraine (his neighbors) during the 1930s collectivization and the war of starvation that Stalin waged against them. Sholokhov maintained a degree of independence and integrity, even as he navigated censorship and the NKVD. (Brian Boeck's biography of Sholokhov, Stalin's Scribe: Literature, Ambition, and Survival: The Life of Mikhail Sholokhov, is an excellent source on Sholokhov's life and writing. Sholokhov won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1965.) Sholokhov was not entirely admirable -- he is accused of sharing the anti-Semitism of the Stalinist period more generally (including sometimes his comments about Vasily Grossman). And he never wrote or spoke publicly against the genocide of the Jews during World War II, the mass exterminations that occurred across the Ukraine, or the resurgence of Soviet anti-Semitism following the end of the war. For example, his 1943 short story about Nazis at war, "The Science of Hatred," does not mention atrocities against the Jews and other innocent people; link. But he was willing to speak some of the truth of the failures and criminality of Soviet persecution of the peasants of the Ukraine -- and that was a considerable political risk. 

But consider another singular and important case in point: the life and writings of Vasily Grossman (link). (Alexandra Popoff's biography of Grossman, Vasily Grossman and the Soviet Century, is an excellent treatment of his life and work.) Grossman was born as a Jew in the Ukraine in 1905 (the same year as Sholokhov), and in early adulthood he became a writer. He gained a degree in chemistry and worked for several years in a coal mine and a factory. When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 he attempted to volunteer for military service, but was rejected for health reasons. He was accepted as a war journalist, and he traveled with the Red Army through its most desperate fighting, culminating in the siege of Stalingrad. His journalism from the front was among the most highly respected in the Soviet Union. It was honest, penetrating, and very sensitive to the conditions of life for the average Soviet soldier in combat. 

Grossman was personally aware of the program of extermination that the invading German army was waging in the western territories of the Soviet Union, Ukraine, and the Baltic countries through his active combat experience with the Red Army. Grossman's mother had remained in their home city, Berdichev, and in 1941 the Jews of Berdichev were rounded up and massacred. Here is Grossman's account from about 1944 about the massacre of Berdichev (link), included in The Complete Black Book of Russian Jewry. In a period of only two days over 20,000 Jewish children, women, and men were killed by gunfire, rifle butt, and brutal beatings -- including Grossman's mother. (Estimates range from 20,000 to 38,536 Jewish victims during the summer of 1941.) The Communist Party and the Stalinist government of the USSR were unwilling to provide an honest account of the campaign of murder and extermination against the Jews of Eastern Europe during 1941 and subsequent years, and Grossman's directness and honesty in his journalism and in Life and Fate are exceptional. As noted in the earlier post, Grossman was the first journalist to provide extensive details about the workings of any Nazi death camp, as a result of his arrival at the site of Treblinka with the Soviet 62nd Army in 1944. His essay, "Ukraine without Jews," is an enormously important contribution to the effort to understand the true significance of the extermination of Europe's Jews. 

Grossman's experience in the Ukraine before the war and with the Red Army gave him a dramatic view of the crimes committed by the Soviet state. He witnessed the forced collectivization of agriculture and campaign of starvation in the Ukraine in the early 1930s, the crushing terror of the late 1930s, and the creation of the Gulag in the 1940s. He thus witnessed the massive totalitarian atrocities committed by Stalin’s apparatus in the name of communism and the total power of the Communist Party, resulting in the deaths of millions of Soviet citizens and hundreds of thousands of writers, engineers, functionaries, and other “enemies of the people”.

During his years as a war correspondent Grossman continued to have great respect and admiration for ordinary Red Army soldiers, but the command staff and political officers soon became contemptible to him.

Grossman wrote two important novels based on his experience at Stalingrad. Both were massively long -- well over 1,000 pages. The first, Stalingrad, was published in the USSR under the title For a Just Cause in 1943 but was quickly withdrawn from the public by Soviet censors. The second, a masterpiece of world literature, was Life and Fate, and had a much more grim view of the Soviet state and of Stalinism. In 1961 the manuscript was seized ("arrested") and Grossman was told that it could not be published for 250 years. He was expelled from the Writers Union -- his primary source of income -- and his health began to decline. He wrote several other novels, but died of stomach cancer in 1964 at the age of 59.

There were several themes which drew Grossman into conflict with the Stalinist censors, and with Stalin himself. First was the fact that Grossman understood very well that Hitler's genocidal plans of extermination were directed primarily against the Jews of Europe -- not random victims of war. But the Soviet party line was to refrain completely from "separating" Jewish victims from other "Soviet citizens" who died at the hands of the Nazis. This was an ideological principle, but it also derived from resurgent anti-Semitism in the USSR as well. This accounts for the Soviet, and later Ukrainian, refusal to place a memorial at Babi Yar in honor of the tens of thousands of Jewish men, women, and children killed there in 1941.

Second, Grossman wrote honestly about ordinary workers and soldiers, including their shortcomings. He was not primarily interested in making heroes of coal miners or infantrymen, and was very explicit about alcohol and other forms of "anti-socialist behavior" among workers. The censors, in contrast, wanted to see novels and stories in which workers were portrayed heroically.

The third line of conflict had to do with the totalitarian and murderous grip of Soviet rule itself. Grossman was especially aware of the massive harms created by Stalin's decimation of the Red Army officer corps through purges before the war and his pig-headed interference with military strategy in the conduct of the war, leading to several million unnecessary casualties and prisoners of war. Grossman was revolted at the behavior and abuses of the state and its functionaries during the conduct of World War II, and he found ways of expressing these views in his writings -- most clearly in Life and Fate. Grossman was a critic of Stalinism before it was either fashionable or safe to do so. Here is a passage from Life and Fate on the Gulag and the political prisons:

In other times, before the war, Krimov often walked past the Lubyanka at night and wondered what was happening behind the windows of that sleepless building. Those arrested were locked up in prison for eight months, a year, a year and a half, while the investigation was ongoing. Then his relatives received letters from the fields, they discovered new names: Komi, Salekhard. Norilsk, Kotlas, Magadan, Vorkutá, Kolymá, Kuznetsk, Krasnoyarsk, Karaganda, Nagayevo Bay ... But thousands of people who were imprisoned in the inner Lubyanka prison disappeared forever. The prosecution informed the relatives that they had been sentenced to "ten years without the right to correspondence", but there were no such sentences in the camps. Ten years without the right to correspond almost certainly meant that they had been shot. (853)

Consider finally the case of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The Gulag Archipelago exposed in great detail the horrendous crimes and scope of suffering created by Stalin's reign of terror through secret police and prison camps. Born in 1918 near Stavropol in the North Caucasus, Solzhenitsyn's experience of the Soviet Union came a decade or more later than that of Grossman and Sholokhov. He served in the Red Army as an artillery captain, and was arrested by Stalin's NKVD in 1945 for critical comments about Stalin that he had included in a private letter to a friend. Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to eight years of labor in the Gulag. He was cleared of charges in 1956. 

Solzhenitsyn's Gulag is a massive documentation of the experience of life in a labor camp in the extreme north, the tundra and the forest, of the USSR. It begins with the arrest and progresses through the many hardships and deprivations created for the prisoners by the state. The aftermath of the arrest:

For those left behind after the arrest there is the long tail end of a wrecked and devastated life. And the attempts to go and deliver food parcels. But from all the windows the answer comes in barking voices: “Nobody here by that name!” “Never heard of him!” Yes, and in the worst days in Leningrad it took five days of standing in crowded lines just to get to that window. And it may be only after half a year or a year that the arrested person responds at all. Or else the answer is tossed out: “Deprived of the right to correspond.” And that means once and for all. “No right to correspondence”—and that almost for certain means: “Has been shot.”

And the helpless desire that it might have been possible to resist:

And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?... The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin's thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If...if...We didn't love freedom enough. And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation.... We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward. (Gulag Archipelago)

Telling the truth -- as Grossman and Solzhenitsyn did remarkably well throughout their careers, and Sholokhov did in a partial way -- is enormously hard in a totalitarian society. When the state is willing to send its critics to deadly labor camps, or to shoot them out of hand, it is virtually impossible to imagine many writers striving to tell the truths that they know. And in any case, since the state controls the means of publication, the critical writer cannot publish his or her work in any case. During the Soviet period, many writers wrote "for the desk drawer" -- manuscripts that could only be published in the distant future. And, knowing the likelihood of hidden manuscripts, the NKVD was very careful in its searches of the apartments of suspected critics and its other victims; correspondence, files, and unpublished manuscripts were routinely burned. In the somewhat less repressive period of post-Stalinist USSR there was a period of Samizdat (self-publishing) -- writings that were distributed as typescripts, hand-written documents, mimeographed documents, and eventually photocopies. Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago was published as Samizdat to a limited readership. But truthful description, diagnosis, and criticism -- these forms of expression were almost entirely impossible within the Stalinist regime. And yet it is impossible for a society to repair its most dehumanizing features if it is impossible to speak openly about those crimes.

United States after the failure of democracy ...

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/10/2021 - 8:48am in

Tags 

Democracy, fascism

Democracy is at risk in the United States. Why do leading political observers like Steven Levitsky and  Daniel Ziblatt (How Democracies Die) fear for the fate of our democracy? Because anti-democratic forces have taken over one of America's primary political parties -- the GOP; because GOP officials, governors, and legislators openly conspire to subvert future elections; because GOP activists and officials work intensively in state legislatures to restrict voting rights for non-Republican voters, including people of color and city dwellers; and because the Supreme Court no longer protects the Constitution and the rights that it embodies. 

Here is how Levitsky and Ziblatt summarize their urgent concerns about the future of our democracy in a recent Atlantic article (link):

From November 2020 to January 2021, then, a significant portion of the Republican Party refused to unambiguously accept electoral defeat, eschew violence, or break with extremist groups—the three principles that define prodemocracy parties. Because of that behavior, as well as its behavior over the past six months, we are convinced that the Republican Party leadership is willing to overturn an election. Moreover, we are concerned that it will be able to do so—legally. That’s why we serve on the board of advisers to Protect Democracy, a nonprofit working to prevent democratic decline in the United States. We wrote this essay as part of “The Democracy Endgame,” the group’s symposium on the long-term strategy to fight authoritarianism.

Any reader of the morning newspaper understands how deadly serious this threat is. Many residents of Michigan find it absolutely chilling that the most recently appointed GOP canvasser for Wayne County has said publicly that he would not have certified the election results for the county in 2020 -- with no factual basis whatsoever (link). With GOP officials in many states indicating their corrupt willingness to subvert future elections, how can one have a lot of hope for the future of our democracy?

So, tragically, it is very timely to consider this difficult question: what might an anti-democratic authoritarian system look like in the United States? Sinclair Lewis considered this question in 1935, and his portrait in It Can't Happen Here was gloomy. Here is a snippet of Lewis's vision of a fascist dictatorship in America following the election of the unscrupulous populist candidate Berzelius Windrip and his paramilitary followers, the Minute Men:

At the time of Windrip's election, there had been more than 80,000 relief administrators employed by the federal and local governments in America. With the labor camps absorbing most people on relief, this army of social workers, both amateurs and long-trained professional uplifters, was stranded.

The Minute Men controlling the labor camps were generous: they offered the charitarians the same dollar a day that the proletarians received, with special low rates for board and lodging. But the cleverer social workers received a much better offer: to help list every family and every unmarried person in the country, with his or her finances, professional ability, military training and, most important and most tactfully to be ascertained, his or her secret opinion of the M.M.'s and of the Corpos in general.

A good many of the social workers indignantly said that this was asking them to be spies, stool pigeons for the American OGPU. These were, on various unimportant charges, sent to jail or, later, to concentration camps—which were also jails, but the private jails of the M.M.'s, unshackled by any old-fashioned, nonsensical prison regulations.

In the confusion of the summer and early autumn of 1937, local M.M. officers had a splendid time making their own laws, and such congenital traitors and bellyachers as Jewish doctors, Jewish musicians, Negro journalists, socialistic college professors, young men who preferred reading or chemical research to manly service with the M.M.'s, women who complained when their men had been taken away by the M.M.'s and had disappeared, were increasingly beaten in the streets, or arrested on charges that would not have been very familiar to pre-Corpo jurists. (ch xvii)

But perhaps this is extreme. Foretelling the future is impossible, but here are several features that seem likely enough given the current drift of US politics, if anti-democratic authoritarian politicians seize control of our legislative and executive offices.

Undermining of constitutional liberties

  • weakening of freedom of the press through additional libel-law restrictions, bonds, and other "chilling" legal mechanisms
  • weakening of freedom of thought and speech through legislation and bullying concerning critical / unpopular doctrines -- "Critical Race Theory", "Queer Studies", "Communist/anarchist thought", ...
  • weakening of freedom of association through extension of police surveillance, police violence, "anti-riot" legislation limiting demonstrations, vilification by leaders, trolls, and social media of outspoken advocates of unpopular positions

Further restrictions on voting rights and voter access to elections

  • extreme gerrymandering to ensure one-party dominance
  • unreasonable voter ID requirements
  • limitations on absentee voting
  • voter intimidation at the polls

The imposition of laws and mandates that are distinctly opposed by the majority of citizens by minority-party-dominated legislatures 

  • repressive and unconstitutional anti-abortion legislation
  • open-carry firearms legislation

Implementation of an anti-regulation agenda that gives a free hand to big business and other powerful stakeholders

  • weakening of regulatory agencies through reduction of legal mandate and budget

Intimidation of dissenters through violent threats, paramilitary demonstrations, and the occasional murder

  • encouragement of social violence by followers of the authoritarian leader
  • persecution through informal and sometimes formal channels of racial and social minorities -- immigrants, people of color, Asians, LGBTQ and transgender people, ...
  • threats of violence and murder against public officials, journalists, and dissidents

These are terrible outcomes, and taken together they represent the extinction of liberal democracy: the integrity of constitutionally-defined equal rights for all individuals, and the principle of majoritarian public decision-making. But what about the extremes that authoritarian states have often reached in the past century -- wholesale persecution of "enemies of the state", imprisonment of dissidents, forcible dissolution of opposition political organizations, political murder, and wholesale use of paramilitary organizations to achieve the political goals of the authoritarian rules? What about the secret police, the Gulag, and the concentration camps? What are the prospects for these horrific outcomes in the United States? How likely is the descent imagined by Sinclair Lewis into wholesale fascist dictatorship?

One would like to say these extremes are unlikely in the US -- that US authoritarianism would be "soft dictatorship" like that of Orban rather than the hard dictatorship of a Putin involving rule by fear, violence, imprisonment, and intimidation. But actually, history is not encouraging. We have seen the decline of one after another of the "guard rails of democracy" in just the past five years, and we have seen the actions of a president who clearly cared only about his own power and will. So where exactly should we find optimism for the idea that an American Mussolini or Windrip would never commit the crimes of the dictators of the twentieth century? Isn't there a great deal of truth in Acton's maxim, "power corrupts; and absolute power corrupts absolutely"? Here is Acton's quote in its more extended context; and it is very specific in its advice that we should not trust "great leaders" to refrain from great crimes:

If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.

Would any of us want to trust our fate as free, equal, and dignified persons to the kindness and democratic values of a Greg Abbott, Ron DeSantis, or Donald Trump? 

The best remedy against these terrible outcomes is to struggle for our democracy now. We must give full and deep support to politicians and candidates who demonstrate a commitment to democratic values, and we must reject the very large number of GOP politicians who countenance the subversion of our democracy through their adherence to the lies of the Trump years. This is not a struggle between "liberals" and "conservatives"; it is a struggle between those who value our liberal democracy and those who cynically undermine and disparage it. And perhaps we will need to take the example and the courage of men and women in Belarus, Myanmar, Thailand, and Hong Kong in their willingness to stand up against the usurpation of their democratic rights through massive peaceful demonstrations.

On the Events in Rome on 9 October

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/10/2021 - 12:08am in

image/jpeg iconrome-9-october.jpg

A well-attended demonstration (between 10 and 20 thousand people) against the Green Pass was held in Rome on Saturday, 9 October. The instigators were a varied bunch: from the "sincere democrats" who brandished copies of the Constitution, and the rights enshrined therein, to the galaxy of the far right who were (in an irony of propaganda) "against the health dictatorship" and for "freedom!”.

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Fascist populism and the threat to democracy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 26/09/2021 - 3:42pm in

Tags 

Democracy, fascism


What features of a political regime contribute to political loyalty and commitment on the part of its citizens? Can a fascist dictatorship inspire political loyalty and commitment from the mass of society? And what about liberal democracy; can a liberal democratic regime maintain mass support?

We have the makings of an answer to the first question. A fascist dictatorship like that of Mussolini can indeed maintain passionate support through a powerful (often mendacious) ideology and value scheme -- fatherland, church, family, scapegoating of "enemies of the people"; a social program that finds support (repression of immigrants and ethnic minorities); and a demonstration of competent governance ("the trains run on time"). This story identifies several factors -- ideology and values, scapegoating, implementation of popular policies of repression, and efficient adminstration of government (economic growth. jobs, stable prices, ...).

So what about liberal democracy: a maximal, extensive, and equal system of rights; and a legislative process implementing equal democratic rights to set law and policy. Does this system provide a basis for eliciting loyalty and commitment from all or most citizens? In particular, does it support a compelling value statement, a real principle of  tolerance, and the capacity for achieving “good government” (efficient management of the public good)? Can the values of equal worth, tolerance of difference, and majoritarian decision-making lead to loyalty and commitment? Can a Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, or Hillary Clinton create an inspiring vision of the future that mobilizes most citizens in support?

The prospects don’t appear to be very good. Anti-liberal political opportunists can always create a counter-narrative that directly or tacitly rejects equality and tolerance and seeks to create a basis for minority rule. Right-wing populism has shown itself to be insidious and virulent — very capable of winning support from large groups of anti-liberal activists and followers. The politics of division and hate are indeed powerful. Fascist ideology, values, and programs have great strength in the space of contemporary mass politics. The currents of hate, fear, racism, xenophobia, and the political maneuver of “group supremacy” have shown themselves to be highly potent bases for political mobilization.

There seem to be two levels of support for a regime that are in question. First is “rational/reasonable consideration” of which regime best suits my longterm interests. The second is “emotional/passionate mobilization” around the call to action by a highly persuasive leader — a Tucker Carlson or Mussolini. The first is a deliberative “all things considered” choice of a regime; the other is political marketing and propaganda.

What then are the prospects for continuing stable support for liberal democracy? First, it is clear that this kind of support is not automatic. There are powerful and compelling anti-liberal voices in the space of liberal democracy. Liberal democrats must compete vigorously or they will lose. They must articulate the value of liberal democracy and the very real dangers of the rise of populist extremism.

Second, liberal democracy needs to make credible the belief that liberal democratic government can succeed in creating laws and policies that genuinely enhance justice, equality, and opportunity.

And third, defenders of liberal democracy need to ensure that the institutions of the state continue to guarantee the rights of all citizens. The willingness of the far-right to use violent threats and actions against our institutions must be rebutted. January 6 is a dangerous and sobering precedent; so are the kidnapping plot against Michigan Governor Whitmer, the brandishing of semi-automatic weapons in state houses around the country, and the intimidation of public health officials during the pandemic. Violence and intimidation are inherently toxic to liberal democracy.

It seems very clear: Citizens must actively assert themselves in support of our liberal democracy, or we will go the way of Hungary.

The Media Bias No One is Talking AboutThe mainstream media has...

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 20/08/2021 - 2:23pm in

The Media Bias No One is Talking About

The mainstream media has historically tried to balance left and right in its political coverage, and present what it views as a reasonable center.

That may sound good in theory. But the old politics no longer exists and the former labels “left” versus “right” are outdated. 

Today it’s democracy versus authoritarianism, voting rights versus white supremacy. There’s no reasonable center between these positions, no justifiable compromise. Equating them is misleading and dangerous.

You hear the mainstream media say, for example, that certain “Republican and Democratic lawmakers are emerging as troublemakers within their parties.” These reports equate Republican lawmakers who are actively promoting Trump’s big lie that the 2020 election was stolen, with Democratic lawmakers who are fighting to extend health care and other programs to help people. 

These are not equivalent. Trump’s big lie is a direct challenge to American democracy. Even if you disagree with providing Americans better access to health care, it won’t destroy our system of government. 

You also hear that both sides are gripped by equally dangerous extremism. Labeling them “radical left” and “radical right” suggests that the responsible position is somehow between these so-called extremes. 

Can we get real? One side is trying to protect and preserve voting rights. The other side is trying to suppress votes under the guise of “election integrity.”  

But there isn’t and never was a problem of “election integrity.” The whole issue of “election integrity” in the 2020 election was manufactured by Donald Trump and his big lie about voter fraud, and was bought and propagated by the Republican Party. 

Today’s Republican Party is behind what historians regard as the biggest attack on voting rights since Jim Crow, but the media frames this as a right-versus-left battle that’s just politics as usual. Equating the two sides is false and dangerous.

Or compare the coverage of Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, on one hand, with the coverage of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar on the other. You’d think they were all equally out of the mainstream, some on the extreme right, some on the extreme left. That’s bunk. 

Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, in addition to spreading dangerous conspiracy theories, harassing colleagues, and promoting bigotry, don’t actually legislate or do anything for their constituents. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar both organize to help everyday people, deliver for their constituents, and have pushed legislation to provide universal school meals, expand affordable housing, and combat the climate crisis.

Equating all these lawmakers suggests that the responsible position is halfway between hateful, delusional conspiracy theories on the one hand, and efforts to fight white supremacy, save the planet, and empower working people on the other. 

It’s similar to what the media did following Donald Trump’s infamous condemnation of “both sides” after the deadly violence sparked by neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. In the ensuing weeks, America’s six top mainstream newspapers used just as much space condemning anti-Nazi counter-protesters as they did actual neo-Nazis.

But research shows white supremacists pose a significantly graver threat than those trying to stop them. White supremacists are animated by racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and other forms of bigotry, violence and hate. 

Battling white supremacy is not the same as advocating it. Passing laws to prevent voter suppression is not the same as passing laws to suppress votes. Fighting for our democracy is not the same as seeking to destroy it. 

The media equating both sides, one “left” and one “right,” suggests there’s a moderate middle between hate and inclusion, between democracy and proto-fascism. 

This is misleading, dangerous, and morally wrong. Don’t fall for it.

A Trump Bombshell Quietly Dropped Last Week. And It Should Shock Us All.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 04/08/2021 - 5:20am in

We’ve become so inured to Donald Trump’s proto-fascism that we barely blink an eye when we learn...

From Judaism to Fascism: How Zionists Turned Their Backs on Their Own Culture

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 16/07/2021 - 7:42am in

WASHINGTON — In late June of this year, New Scientist blandly reported that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) had “used a swarm of small drones to locate, identify and attack Hamas militants,” the first documented case of a drone swarm being used in so-called combat.

In his book, “Exterminate All The Brutes,” Sven Lindqvist contextualizes Adolf Hitler’s atrocities in the imperialist violence of the nineteenth century, and in one chapter outlines how European artillery advancements gave colonizers both emotional and physical distance from the indigenous Africans they slaughtered. Europeans were an “invisible and unreachable opponent,” capable of being “victorious without even being present.” This can’t really be called combat, and indeed even Winston Churchill referred to it as “only a sporting element in a splendid game.” Combat was something gentlemen did and in the imperialist mindset, of course, the Africans were savages, barely even human.

There’s a thread that links this kind of “sport” from the atrocities in Africa to the Holocaust and now, so ironically, to the state of Israel.

 

Your Lebensraum, my Lebensraum

In the 1890s, a German zoologist named Friedrich Ratzel coined the term “Lebensraum,” which literally translates to living space. Those who have studied the Holocaust might be familiar with it as the Third Reich’s reasoning for invading Central and Eastern Europe. Well, this is where they got the idea. Besides the European Scramble for Africa, Ratzel had been inspired by his travels to North America, where he saw how white colonizers were taking land by force. Seeing this as a positive and indeed necessary transgression, Ratzel fashioned a brutal Darwinian ideology: in order to acquire sufficient Lebensraum, inferior races have to be displaced, which incidentally often means they will die and leave the space entirely. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

The whole concept of Zionism is that Jews need specific and exclusive Lebensraum. Therefore, others must be displaced. This displacement, far from being a negative or even cruel endeavor, merely proves the supremacy of the displacer, thereby proving the necessity of exterminating the displaced. As Lindqvist writes “during Hitler’s childhood, a major element in the European view of mankind was the conviction that ‘inferior races’ were by nature condemned to extinction; the true compassion of the superior races consisted in helping them on the way.”

During the Holocaust, Jews were an ‘inferior race.’ Today in Israel, Palestinians are an ‘inferior race.’ As reporter and The Electronic Intifada Associate Editor Nora Barrows-Friedman told me when I asked her how Zionists respond to Jewish teachings of solidarity with the oppressed: “When you talk to Zionists about Jewish teachings and how that relates to the Palestinians, they say ‘well we’re not oppressing them, they’re not even people,’” a line that could have easily been taken from Hitler himself. And when Adolf was still just a young lad in Austria, that same sub-human paradigm fueled the celebratory reports of European barbarity in Africa, as well as the U.S. and Canadian genocide of indigenous peoples in North America.

Jude (jew)

The word Jude (Jew) is scrawled on a Jewish-rub shop in Berlin following Nazi-incited mass riots in 1938. Photo | AP

It’s important to place Israel’s atrocities in historical context, for we can only know where we are by understanding where we’ve been. Hitler did not exist in an ideological vacuum. He simply looked around at the world he was born into and pulled from already existing ideologies, tried and true tactics. He was inspired by people like imperialist sycophant Ratzel, who was inspired by the U.S. Hitler too was a big fan of U.S. domestic policy, not least of all the Jim Crow laws that he simply repackaged into yellow fabric Stars of David. Even the concentration camp predates Hitler’s rise to power. The concept was originally used by Spaniards in Cuba then moved north to the U.S., then across the pond to England during the Boer War, and finally a hop and a skip down to Germany. And today, the U.S. carries on that tradition via the PR-polished “detention centers” for migrants.

Zionists were likewise inspired by their socio-political surroundings and, as Barrows-Friedman notes, “were explicit about their colonialist aims. In the original documents that Zionists drew up, they specifically say ‘this is a colonial project,’” she explains. “Everyone was doing the colonialism thing, and they [Zionists] wanted in on it.” This wasn’t about ‘going home.’ Yes, some Jews have always lived in the area now known as Israel, and there were plenty living there quite peacefully as Palestinians up until 1948. Jews have also lived almost everywhere else. We are not a people without a home; we are a people with many homes.

 

Zionism and supremacy: paying oppression forward

Indeed, this concept of borderless solidarity is something that has inspired many Jews to be active in liberation and justice movements. And while Zionism is packaged as the need for a safe space for Jews, it’s clear that this wasn’t about safety. There is no safety in terrorism. Rather, it was about supremacy. Having been shunned from so many communities for so long warped the perspectives of some Jews into believing that what they really needed wasn’t basic human rights but the right to thwart others’ basic human rights. The drive to climb the blood-soaked ladder of imperialism, to no longer be on the bottom rungs, shrouded not only their humanity but their own cultural teachings.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure of attending a Seder (you’re always welcome to my house for our anti-capitalist, anti-Zionist extravaganza!), the primary theme of the evening is “don’t be an oppressive asshole, for you know what it is to have assholes oppress you.” I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the basic gist. And Passover is just one example. Throughout Jewish traditions and teachings, the voices and experiences of the oppressed are uplifted in order to highlight the need for Jews to not just stand up for our own human rights, but for the human rights of all. We were exiled, we were driven out, we were genocided, we were persecuted just for being ourselves. Our place is therefore in the struggle for a world beyond those atrocities. None are free till all are free. To be Jewish is to be a fighter for liberation, for justice. As Barrows-Friedman explains, “the term ‘Never Again’ is not selective. It has to be universal.”

 

How Zionism is profoundly anti-Semitic

Zionism is therefore anti-Semitic — in both theory and practice. First and as noted above, it flies in the face of Jewish teachings and traditions. Second, it suggests that we only belong in one place — that we are not welcome in places that we have learned to call home, from New York to Shanghai. It pigeon-holes us into a homogeneous monolith, a singular stereotype. These points were the main drivers of the loud Jewish tradition of anti-Zionism. Again, inspired by teachings and experience, many Jews in early twentieth-century Europe were loud and proud leftists.

As John Merriman writes in his book “Ballad of the Anarchist Bandits,” a popular term for Jews in turn-of-the-20th-century Europe was “Cosmopolitan Anarchists.” Which I actually really love. These Jews were vehemently opposed to the ideas of imperialism, nationalism and colonialism — aspects they saw as intricately linked with any sort of Zionist endeavor. Furthermore, they didn’t like the idea of appeasing anti-Semites in Europe by just disappearing. As one early twentieth-century poster shared in a recent interview with scholar Benjamin Balthaser asserts, “Where we live, there is our country!” Yet, appeasing anti-Semites was a cornerstone of Zionism from the beginning. Theodore Herzl, known as the ‘father of modern political Zionism,’ wrote in his diaries that “[t]he anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies.” To quote my Jewish grandmother, “What a schmuck.”


A Yiddish poster reads: “There, where we live, there is our country! ” Credit | Jewish Labor Movement’s Bund Archives

It’s no wonder that Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer calls himself a “white Zionist.” And while Zionist-friendly media was quick to jump on the 2017 Israeli TV comment as totally misguided and a twisting of Zionism, the sad fact of the matter is that the Neo-Nazi got it right (not least of all because Israel is a very racist state, placing light-skinned Jews in higher positions of power while black Jews are considered to be just above Palestinians). Zionism is colonialism, it is imperialism, it is terrorism and apartheid — all things that Neo-Nazis, and original Nazis, hold in very high regard. Where both Zionists and their anti-Semitic pals get it so wrong is the conflation of Judaism with Zionism.

Zionism didn’t get rolling until the end of the nineteenth century and from the outset clearly pulled from imperialist, white-supremacist ideologies, not from Jewish traditions and teachings. Jews, on the other hand, have been around for roughly 6,000 years or so (it’s currently Year 5781 in the Jewish calendar). To conflate Judaism with Zionism is like conflating humanity with iPhones. It’s ahistorical and it paints a picture of Jews that fits rather too comfortably with old caricatures of the conniving Israelite.

And of course, this works out really well for the anti-Semites. I’ve gone to more than one Neo-Nazi rally where I’ve overheard fascists complain about Israel’s control over our government, our economy. “They control everything,” one guy in a MAGA hat loudly proclaimed. I assume the guy standing next to him agreed, as he was wearing a “Hitler Missed a Few” t-shirt. Now, if you’re a Zionist, you can’t disagree with him — because you feel that Israel = Judaism. The only way you can push back against this fascist dumbshittery is to starkly and resolutely separate Israel from Judaism.

 

Why Fascists love Zionists (and hate Jews)

Israel does have a disturbing stranglehold on our government — be it demands of loyalty from U.S. citizens, truckloads of arms and weapons, or the cozy relationship our police have with Israeli forces. Judaism does not. Indeed, Jews have a long history of not being welcome in the U.S., much like other immigrants, while fascism — well, that’s as American as apple pie. Hitler got plenty of ideas from the U.S. and a lot of people in the U.S. returned the favor.

In 1939, Madison Square Garden in New York City was filled with 20,000 Nazis sieg heiling a massive portrait of George Washington flanked by giant swastikas. In October of that year, the same organization that was behind the MSG event, the German American Bund, held a massive parade through the streets of New York. Two years earlier, nearly 1,000 Jewish refugees were turned away from both Canada and the U.S. and were forced to return to Europe just as the Nazi’s Final Solution was unfolding. Three years before that, the Wall Street-backed American Liberty League plotted to overthrow the government and install a fascist dictatorship. IBM, Coca-Cola, Kodak and other corporations found in Nazi Germany ready customers — and why let a speedbump like genocide stand in the way of a bottom line? Indeed, IBM didn’t just sell to the Nazis, they facilitated mass murder by supplying Nazi Germany with punched-card technology, making it possible to track the Jews — if you ever wondered why Jews in the Holocaust were tattooed with numbers. Thanks, IBM.


20,000 Americans attend a Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden, February 20, 1939.

Again, this historical context matters. We need to understand this history in order to see how events like Charlottesville in 2017 are far from unique or surprising. Rather, they’re part of a long history of American fascism — or, as Mussolini suggested fascism be called, corporatism. This history also shows us the vast disparities between Zionism and Judaism.

 

Reclaiming what Judaism has always been

Both ideologically and in lived experiences, Zionism and Judaism are at odds. They exist on opposite ends of the power dynamic spectrum. “We have to dismantle Zionism — the way we work to dismantle imperialism and white supremacy, and racism and patriarchy,” Barrows-Friedman says. “It’s all part of the same project. Israel is a project of exploitation of Jewish suffering to further an imperialist Western role.” Therefore, one of the main ways we do this, she says, is to “reclaim what Judaism has always been, going toward Jewish tradition as open and proud anti-Zionists.”

This means taking back our history, and our present as Jewish people. It means highlighting the twisted use of Jewish suffering to claim an inalienable right to oppress. It means taking our place on the side of the oppressed, never the oppressor. Here, less than a century after the Holocaust, Israel has proven that it too can be fascist. To whose glory? What have we Jews gained by Israel’s appeal to fascist ideologies?

Furthermore, why desperately try to affirm your humanity by following a fascist’s description of your lack thereof? Because of course, it won’t ultimately matter. Inferiority is an always-moving target. It always has been — be they the Irish under British terror, the Congolese under Belgian terror, the Indigenous and African-Americans under U.S. terror, Jews in the Holocaust, or today’s War on Terror, any and every people, culture, tradition and belief can be marred and maligned in order to fit the needs of oppression. Jews will never gain peace and safety through terrorism. We will find no supremacy on the other side of brutality. We will always be inferior to the fascist. The question is why then is it so important for Zionists to appeal to fascists?

As Frantz Fanon wrote, “The oppressed will always believe the worst about themselves.” In the case of Zionists, this must be true. They must have believed that they were inferior because they were a “landless people,” just like the imperialists said of Africans; or indeed as Francis Bacon wrote of his perceived “monsters” in the 1600s, that they were mere “swarms of people” who were unavowed by God. They must have believed that they were inferior, weak. It is not uncommon to hear a Zionist talk of the “weak Jews” in the concentration camps who should’ve fought back against their captors. And if you accept that you are inferior based on the claims of the oppressor, the only way to rectify that is to become like the one who oppresses you. Of course, in the process, you will lose yourself. You will lose all that it is to be human. You will become the sick and grotesque creation of your new master — a hideous fascist Frankenstein — and still the inferior.

Fanon also wrote about the colonization that colonizers impose on themselves — the violence that they inflict that is also inflicted upon them. Joseph Conrad, the author of “Heart of Darkness,” wrote graphically of this concept in his first short story, “An Outpost of Progress,” a story of two Europeans who are stationed at an outpost in the jungles of Africa in the 1890s. They gradually lose their minds, and the story ends in a murder-suicide, with Kayerts, one of the European men, hanging from a cross above his predecessor’s grave:

Progress was calling to Kayerts from the river. Progress and civilization and all the virtues. Society was calling to its accomplished child to come, to be taken care of, to be instructed, to be judged, to be condemned; it called him to return to that rubbish heap from which he had wandered away, so that justice could be done. 

As Lindqvist writes, these characters represent a European identity, a “[p]rogress that presupposes genocide.”

There is no glory in the oppressed becoming the oppressor. We who are of European descent must grapple with our genocidal history, unpack what horrors have been passed down from colonizers, and confront that trauma. We must confront that history that has become our present, as children of this Empire, so that we may stop it from becoming the future. And as Jews, we must grapple with Israel’s present for the very same reasons.

Jewish Voice for Peace

A Jewish activist protests Israeli apartheid, in north Jersey. Screenshot | NorthJersery.com

As James Baldwin explained in a 1963 interview:

What white people have to do, is to try to find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place, because I’m not a nigger, I’m a man, but if you think I’m a nigger, it means you need it. Why?”

Zionists need it because they seek to emulate their own oppressors. Someone must replace the Jew in their shitty remake. For they do not wish to be the Jew any longer. As reporter and host, Jacquie Luqman said recently on By Any Means Necessary: “If anybody in the Black community is supporting anybody else in our community who preys on other people, then those people are not our people.” Zionists are not our people.

“I like being Jewish. I really hate the way it’s been co-opted,” Barrows-Friedman explains. “The beauty of Jewish culture is the tradition, the stories, the songs, the education about no one is free if anyone’s oppressed. Zionism cannot dictate how we are Jews. We can’t let them win.”

As Jews, we stand with the oppressed — that is what our own history and our teachings demand. We must bring forward the past because, to yet again quote Baldwin, “history is not the past, it is the present.” We should be proud of our heritage, proud of our culture and the thick bonds of solidarity that bolster our fight and inspire our build.

To be proud to be Jewish is a good thing, so long as we don’t lose sight of what that means. We have a lot of work to do, and the enemies we face will claim to want the same things that we do, to believe in the same teachings we believe in. The fight against Zionism is deeply personal for many Jews, but it is a part of the vital, all-embracing work of dismantling colonialism — in our own communities and likewise in the world. As Simone de Beauvoir wrote, “A freedom that is interested only in denying freedom must be denied.” For the sake of our liberation as Jews — as human beings — we must deny Zionism. In short: Be Jewish. Be proud. Be anti-Zionist.

Feature photo | Right-wing Israeli Jews confront Palestinians demonstrating for the release of a Palestinian prisoner held by Israel without trial and slipped into a coma after a nearly two-month hunger strike, in the city of Ashkelon. Photo | Activestills

The post From Judaism to Fascism: How Zionists Turned Their Backs on Their Own Culture appeared first on MintPress News.

The Holocaust "comparability" debate

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 30/06/2021 - 10:09am in


The question of how to understand the Holocaust has troubled historians since the first knowledge of the war of extermination against the Jews of Europe became widespread in the 1940s. Is the Holocaust unique in human history? Can the crimes of the Holocaust be compared to other periods of genocide in the twentieth century? Is there a connection between Hitler's war on the Jews and German character, German colonialism, or German philosophy?

The most recent iteration of the debate is taking place through a spate of articles, books, and internet contributions by talented scholars like Neil Gregor, Michael Rothberg, Jurgen Zimmerer, Achille Mbembe, Dirk Moses, and others, and the debate has been intense. A. Dirk Moses, author of The Problems of Genocide, frames the debate in a contribution to Geschichte der gegenwert (History of the present; link) that has stimulated a series of excellent responses in the New Fascism Syllabus (link). Moses' article is short and polemical, provocatively titled "The German Catechism" (link). Moses believes that the politics of the Federal Republic of Germany over the past several decades have led to a dogmatic and limiting set of assumptions about how scholars and the public should understand and remember the Holocaust. And he believes this set of strictures makes it difficult to bring forward the facts of genocide and atrocity that were part of the European colonial practice in Africa and other parts of the world. Moses puts his view in these terms:

For many, the memory of the Holocaust as a break with civilization is the moral foundation of the Federal Republic. To compare it with other genocides is therefore considered a heresy, an apostasy from the right faith. It is time to abandon this catechism. (link)

Moses describes the debate as revolving around a "catechism" of beliefs about the Holocaust which, according to some, should never be questioned:

  1. The Holocaust is unique in that it involves the unrestricted annihilation of Jews for the sake of their annihilation.In contrast to the pragmatic and limited goals for which other genocides were undertaken, a state here tried for the first time in history to wipe out a people solely for ideological reasons.
  2. Since it destroyed interpersonal solidarity in an unprecedented manner, the memory of the Holocaust as a breach of civilization forms the moral foundation of the German nation, often even of European civilization.
  3. Germany bears a special responsibility for the Jews in Germany and is obliged to show particular loyalty to Israel: "Israel's security is part of the raison d'être of our country."
  4. Anti-Semitism is a prejudice and ideologem sui generis and it was a specifically German phenomenon. It should not be confused with racism.
  5. Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. (link)

The discussion of Moses' polemical piece has alternated between general support for Moses' ideas in broad strokes and criticisms of the sharper edges of his piece. On the "support" side is a very thoughtful piece by Neil Gregor (link), including this general remark about the importance of understanding the Holocaust in a broader historical context: "For a long time, the history of National Socialism has made much greater sense to me when understood as European history as well as German history, and I have always thought it important to locate it within wider histories of European colonialism and racial science, to read its ideological drives within the contexts of more generic nationalism, militarism and anti-democratic thought, and to see it as having been incubated by powerful tendencies in not just German, but European histories from the nineteenth century onwards." Gregor also offers a series of thoughtful hesitations about Moses' article, mostly having to do with its categorical and polemical tone.

The heart of the debate has to do with the status of the Holocaust in world history. Is the Shoah historically unique and incomparable to other terrible events? Does it represent a "civilizational break"? Do historians diminish the moral importance of the Holocaust by discussing it in the context of broader historical circumstances and actions in Europe and the world? Is a concern for colonial violence and European racism in Africa, Palestine, or other parts of the colonized world a tacit diminishment of the importance of the Holocaust? Is it possible -- as historians do in the nature of their work -- to analyze the Holocaust in a comparative mode, considering regimes of killings in other parts of the world as well?
A very basic thread of this debate is the relationship between the crimes of the Holocaust by the Nazi regime and the crimes of colonial powers in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. From outside the debate -- and outside Germany -- it seems clear that it is necessary to be able to consider the historical causes of multiple human catastrophes -- as Timothy Snyder does in treating the Holocaust and the Holodomor in the same book (Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin). This effort at placing large events in a historical context and considering their dynamics in comparison to other historical processes is at the heart of the historian's craft. This does not imply one evil is the same as another; it simply reflects a very ordinary moral conviction that it is crucial to honestly recognize the crimes of the past, whoever the perpetrators and whoever the victims.
The fifth item in the catechism is especially politically charged in the context of today's geopolitical realities. It implies that criticisms of the military and governmental policies of the state of Israel are inherently anti-Semitic. And yet this position is plainly fundamentally unacceptable from a moral point of view. It is evident that scholars and citizens alike must be free to express their disapproval and alarm about official actions of the government of Israel in its treatment of Palestinians in Gaza, the occupied territories, and Israel itself. The equation of criticisms of state policies by Israel with anti-Semitism connects directly with international disagreements about the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS), as well as efforts in Germany and the United States to limit support for BDS. Again, whatever the justice of the demands associated with BDS, it seems evident on its face that a liberal state cannot enact legislation prohibiting support for the BDS movement.
A recent eruption in the controversy about memory and the Holocaust is a debate that arose in Germany in 2020 concerning the writings of Achille Mbembe (link). Mbembe is a noted Cameroonian scholar on post-colonial history, with a long record of highly-regarded scholarship. He has been an outspoken critic of Israel's occupation of Palestine. "The occupation of Palestine is the biggest moral scandal of our times, one of the most dehumanizing ordeals of the century we have just entered, and the biggest act of cowardice of the last half-century" (foreword to Apartheid Israel: The Politics of an Analogy). He has expressed support for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS) as a response to policies and military / police actions of the state of Israel against Palestinian citizens. The controversy was taken up officially in Germany by Felix Klein, the first Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight against Anti-Semitism. Mbembe was accused of anti-Semitism for his position on BDS, and he was accused of relativizing the Holocaust, apparently because of his use of the concept of apartheid in application to Israel. Mbembe has vigorously denied the charge of anti-Semitism at all levels.
One of the historians whose work has been at the center of the debate about comparability is Michael Rothberg. His Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization makes the effort to draw own the relationships that exist at multiple levels -- structural and moral -- between the extermination campaign against Europe's Jewish population and the systematic violence and murder that occurred through colonial governance in Africa and elsewhere. The idea of the "multidirectionality" of memory plays a key role in his treatment; instead of comparison, we are invited to consider a range of facts and causes of the evils of genocide, slavery, and mass violence. Here is how he formulates the basic issue in Multidirectional Memory (discussing Walter Benn Michaels' treatment of the parallel facts of US slavery and the Holocaust):
In this passage Michaels takes up one of the most agonizing problems of contemporary multicultural societies: how to think about the relationship between different social groups’ histories of victimization. This problem, as Michaels recognizes, also fundamentally concerns collective memory, the relationship that such groups establish between their past and their present circumstances. A series of questions central to this book emerges at this point: What happens when different histories confront each other in the public sphere? Does the remembrance of one history erase others from view? When memories of slavery and colonialism bump up against memories of the Holocaust in contemporary multicultural societies, must a competition of victims ensue? (kl 154)
Rothberg is a participant is the current debate about historical memory, and his interpretation of the Mbembe affair is especially helpful for readers trying to understand the terms of the debate (link). Here is Rothberg's summary of the circumstances of the affair in Germany:

Mbembe, one of the world’s most prominent theorists of race, colonialism, violence, and human possibility, was slated to speak in August 2020 at a cultural festival in Germany, the Ruhr Triennial. A regional politician, Lorenz Deutsch, decided to try and block Mbembe’s appearance by issuing an open letter that presented a handful of citations from Mbembe’s work mentioning the Holocaust, apartheid, and the Israeli occupation of Palestine. On the basis of these short and decontextualized excerpts, Deutsch accused Mbembe of “anti-Semitic ‘Israel critique,’ Holocaust relativization, and extremist disinformation.” Deutsch’s interpretation of Mbembe’s work—which I consider tendentious, partial, and misleading—was taken up and affirmed by a more prominent voice, that of Felix Klein, the German Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and for the Fight against Antisemitism. Although the Ruhr Triennial was canceled because of the coronavirus, Deutsch and Klein nevertheless wanted its director censured and Mbembe disinvited because the latter had allegedly profaned the Holocaust, demonized Israel, and offered support to BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions). BDS, a non-violent campaign that calls for the end of the occupation, the return of refugees, and equal rights for Palestinians, was deemed intrinsically antisemitic in a controversial 2019 Bundestag declaration, despite protests by intellectuals and activists, including many Jewish ones. Mbembe stated that he was not a member of the BDS movement, but even a tangential association with BDS has proven enough to tarnish reputations in contemporary Germany—as the director of the Jewish Museum Berlin, Peter Schäfer, also learned last year. (link)

Rothberg suggests that we would be well advised to reconceive the issues by recognizing that comparison is not the most fundamental issue; instead, the subtext of both historians' debates has to do with responsibility and the denial of responsibility.
The juxtaposition of Historikerstreit versions 1.0 and 2.0—as well as the wide-ranging discussions about Holocaust memory, colonialism, slavery, and Israel/Palestine that continue in Germany and elsewhere—clarifies the need to link memory to solidarity and historical responsibility: that is, to the ethical and political commitments that subtend public forms of remembrance. Beyond comparison lies the implication of the intellectuals who debate comparisons in the histories they dispute. In the simplest terms, we can say that the original Historikerstreit involved a clash among Germans over Germany’s particular responsibility for the Holocaust. In the new discussions, the participants are not all Germans and the histories at stake are more than European. Far from diluting the participants’ implication in historical and contemporary injustices, however, this enlargement of the field of comparison sharpens the question of responsibility. The new Historikerstreit is not a controversy only for Germans and Europeans, but it is not one they can evade either.
Dirk Moses offers a very extensive reply, rebuttal, and reinforcement of his views in a concluding post in the series (link). There is a great deal of developed argumentation in his closing article, and it is worth reading carefully. However, it doesn't become less polemical. If anything, Moses raises the stakes in his polemics, making German white supremacy the key to the German catechism that he attacks. But as numerous contributors to the debate have already shown, the motivations and moral positions of the scholars and thinkers whose work led to what Moses describes as "the catechism" were anything but reactionary and racist.
Plainly these debates are complicated and intertwined with academic, political, and emotional allegiances. Johannes von Moltke's contribution to the New Fascism colloquium is an especially thoughtful effort to disentangle the many threads of the debate (link). Here is a very concise statement of Moltke's position from the end of his article in the New Fascism colloquium:
However, especially in view of the analogy that Moses admittedly furnished by his choice of imagery, it is worth noting that the parallels end right there. For where Moses critiques the catechism in the name of greater differentiation, where Rothberg and Zimmerer call for more multidirectionality and comparison, the far-right advocates for its outright abolition as the only way to free the Germans from the burden of guilt. To them, the problem lies, neither in the singularity thesis nor in the ritualization of Holocaust memory per se, but in their “psychological and political effects on the German Volk.” The purpose of critique, consequently, is not inclusiveness, recognition, or solidarity across multiple identity groups but ethnonationalist retrenchment. Agreeing at first blush with the thesis of a catechism that rules Germans lives, Sellner winds his way to conclusions diametrically opposed to both the letter and the spirit of Moses’s intervention. If for the former the catechism demands to be countered by “inclusive thinking,” the latter sees it only in terms of its “inescapable consequences”: “the exchange of the population through replacement migration as well as the routine, targeted traumatization of indigenous youth.” By which he presumably means “bio-Germans.” Moses, Rothberg, and Zimmerer want a different culture of memory; Sieferle and Sellner want none.

The contributions to the extended series in New Fascism Syllabus are deep and provocative. The series is an important contribution to the large topic of how to make sense of the atrocities of the twentieth century, and a collection of the articles would make an excellent short book. These contributions by leading scholars of genocide and the Holocaust provide a great deal of insight into the difficult question of how to confront evil in history. 

America’s Greatest Danger isn’t China. It’s Much Closer to Home.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 21/06/2021 - 5:37am in

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China, fascism, Japan

China’s increasingly aggressive geopolitical and economic stance in the world is unleashing a fierce...

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