YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

April 17, 2015

The ongoing appeal of the Leftist-dominated Popular Front

popular-front-boxThis blog is about why Popular Front political coalition continues to exist, and why it is hard for the Right to resist “leftist” smears of fascism and racism. But it is primarily about the emotional appeal of a far left faction within American “progressive politics.”

Where did the Popular Front originate? Stalin’s sectarianism (after 1928) persisted until 1935, when he decided to bond with the hated bourgeois parties against variants of fascism as it emerged in China (on Chinese massacres, see Harold Isaacs, The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution), Germany, Italy, and Spain. Whereas social democrats had formerly been stigmatized as warmongers and enablers of repressive anti-communist regimes, now it was deemed expedient to join with other “bureaucratic collectivists” (statists) to defeat laissez-faire capitalism (specifically finance capital) OR against creeping or already existent “fascism.” (https://clarespark.com/2013/04/21/fascism-what-it-is-what-it-is-not/)

Popular Front politics persist today in the “progressive movement” (Mrs. Clinton!) that confusingly blends “the working class” with “the middle class.” (See the distinction here: https://clarespark.com/2010/09/11/is-wall-street-slaughtering-the-middle-class/.) It remains moot for me whether the Reds swallowed the New Deal or the conservative reforms initiated by FDR swallowed and defanged the Communists. What is obvious is that such New Deal innovations as multiculturalism (covertly racist but in line with the “tolerance” that ameliorated “prejudice”) were taken up by academics and journalists once associated solely with the “hard Left.” Reading such as Alan Wald (a Trotskyist who lauds Stalinists, and is  a prominent cultural historian of the literary left teaching at the U. of Michigan: https://www.lsa.umich.edu/english/people/profile.asp?ID=299), it is hard to discern a clear line that would separate Wald from the New Dealers, for instance, in his recent book Trinity of Passion (2007), Professor Wald adopts the lingo of the Pan-Africanists, referring to his “Black” victims and heroes as “African Americans.” This tic should be, but is not, anathema to an anti-racist of the Left. (Liberal feminist and internationalist Martha Nussbaum adopts the same “multicultural” terminology.)


What is the appeal of Leninism, apart from its obvious advantages in gaining employment for leading academics and journalists?

First, it appropriates an already existing emotional repertoire promoted by mass and high culture alike: that of melodrama with its vocabulary of clearly defined heroes, villains, and victims. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/08/09/melodrama-and-its-appeal/.)

Second, with such clear boundaries between categories, even the most humble person can identify with the lineage of heroes speaking truth to power and, at least imaginatively, lifting up the “oppressed” to the role of major actors in the melodrama of history.

Third, the script is easily mastered. It takes no deep knowledge of political history or economics to assume the mantle of heroism, even Prometheanism at its most masochistic. Marx’s theory of exploitation and/or his concept of alienation are easily mastered axioms, resonant with pre-existent popular resentments of the wealthy and privileged. (Academic social theorists of the Foucauldian or Thompsonian Left will find this blog hilariously retarded, but I am assuming that it was vulgar Marxism that appealed to the populist-progressives.)

Fourth, progressivism affords to the misfits and escape artists “a kind of home” (to quote Pacifica Founder Lew K. Hill’s suicide note) for the nerds and the marginal, who do not see themselves reflected in popular culture. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/10/21/links-to-pacifica-memoirs/.)


Fifth, the affiliation with New Deal progressivism and communism alike, purifies the self of negative emotions, such as envy. As long as “equality” refers solely to equality of condition as opposed to equality of opportunity, one need not blame oneself for what the “dominant culture” refers to as “failure.” The (imaginary) “system” is “rigged.” (Just ask any Democrat.)

I started this entry with a brief mention of the persistent Popular Front Against Fascism. It is obvious that for all “progressives” the Republican Party and/or the Tea Party are the current “fascists” who must be defeated, lest the Dark Night (“reaction,”  i.e., proto-fascist nationalism and imperialism) of the twentieth century returns.


August 16, 2012

Marx, anarchist rivals, and our enigmatic President

[For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2012/04/06/diagnosing-potus/. Also, https://clarespark.com/2012/09/14/ron-paul-anarchist-in-chief/]

Because the history of radical thought is rarely taught objectively, if at all, in the universities, much of the electorate is at the mercy of any anti-statist conservative who takes it upon himself to write a book about his political enemies, tarring them with the brush of either communism, fascism, or “totalitarianism” (the latter conflating communism and Nazism/ fascism, which have differing political genealogies, and differ sharply with respect to the Enlightenment).

We remain in an attenuated political culture, because leftists and liberals alike dominate the teaching of the humanities in the public schools, and elite universities (both private and public). Right wing protest attempts to overcome the leftist monopoly with largely religious claims that are often flawed, for instance, holding “atheism” or “materialism” or “science” or “technology” or “feminism” or “gays” responsible for the perceived decadence of our times.

At the same time, many vocal post-60s leftists refuse to acknowledge that this is a big country, with diverse belief systems. Hence their political tactics may be intolerant and lacking in empathy for those who find purpose and meaning in Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, etc. Enter the fiercely argued culture wars, where “secularism,” to take one example, has been transformed from the separation of Church and State to “godless Communism.” Do we enjoy Ayn Rand’s novels? She must be the devil, for she was a materialist who lauded creative achievement in this world. What we may not do is view her as the product of a particular moment in history, when collectivism (either Soviet Communism or the New Deal) was justified as the realization of altruism, a quality held to be lacking in dog-eat-dog hyper-individualistic industrial society, controlled by “economic royalists” as FDR named his opponents. At a moment when social bonds were mystical (as envisioned by either the corporatist liberals or the Soviets), Rand defended science, technology, and the materialist Enlightenment:  for Rand social bonds were rational and based on competence in manipulating the materials of this world.

What to do when there is no common basis for agreement regarding fundamental values, let alone the application of the Constitution to an industrialized or post-industrial society such as our own? My personal solution is to defend scientific method, political pluralism (on “cultural pluralism” see https://clarespark.com/2013/09/26/cultural-pluralism-vs-multiculturalism/), and creative freedom against all authoritarian tendencies, whether these emanate from the Left, the “moderate men,” or the Right. That is the purpose of the website, and decades earlier, was the project of my radio programs on KPFK-FM, Los Angeles. Whereas “leftists”(including anarchists) claim to stand with “the oppressed,” I stand with artists, the unleashed imagination, and the creative spirit in general, which I believe each one of our species possesses.

Yesterday, I promised my Facebook friends that I would try to write a blog distinguishing between Karl Marx and his anarchist rivals. Looking over the various Wikipedia biographies of the major actors in this (anarchist) trend in European history (see below), I was daunted, even floored. But I did discover that Noam Chomsky admired such anarchist thinkers as Bakunin (add Perry Anderson to that list), while Martin Luther King, Jr. is better seen as a descendant of Tolstoy.

As for Marx versus Lenin versus Mao-Tse-tung, I will summarize all too briefly what their differences were here (and note that I am drastically oversimplifying, and everything I write will be seen as reductionist and dumb by those who are intellectuals in the many left-wing sects):

  1. Marx was  hardly the sole critic of industrial society, but it is his apocalyptic prophecies of socialist revolution that distinguish him from his rivals. He believed that the working class would become immiserated, and that portions of the bourgeoisie would desert their class to join with the workers to “expropriate the expropriators.” This could  only happen in advanced industrial societies where the working class comprised the majority. Marx had little use for petit-bourgeois radicalism  (such as utopian socialism advanced by many of his contemporaries, including Robert Owen and the Fourierites in America). And he famously despised “the idiocy of rural life” and societies he considered to be backward, which aroused the fury of such as the anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist Edward Said, along with other primitivists and antisemites. Most controversially, Marx predicted the withering away of the state after a relatively brief period of working class dictatorship. In his fantasies, the creative spirit soon would be enjoyed by everyone, once the commodifying capitalist boot was lifted from the necks of hapless workers.
  2. Soviet Communism. It was not supposed to happen in a backward country, but Lenin and his Bolshevik comrades took advantage of the Great War and Russia’s defeat to mount a  coup and a separate peace. Lenin was deeply influenced by J. A. Hobson, and one emphasis was breaking the stranglehold of finance capital (“the Jews”). Rather than allowing worker’s councils (as had sprung up in numerous locales), he supported “war communism” and “bureaucratic  centralism” that easily was transmuted by Stalin to “socialism in one country.” Meanwhile, Trotskyists broke with Stalinism to foment international revolution, while I. N. Steinberg, leader of the Left Social Revolutionaries, fled for his life.
  3. Maoism. The Chinese Communists broke with Moscow from about 1958 onward. Mao’s theory that the peasants were the revolutionary class in China appealed to many radicals  with an agrarian bias. Such incendiary radicals as H. Bruce Franklin,  however, managed to defend Stalin while advocating Third World revolution  in the 1960s. Here is where the New Left and the anti-urban, libertarian, anarchistic “counter-culture” could join hands. “Old Guard” members of SDS finally lined up with the Democratic Party, while some of the “direct action” folk blew themselves up and their ideological offspring can be found in parts of the Occupy Wall Street, anti-globalization demonstrations. In pop culture they may “rage against the machine.”
  4. The irony of Marxism. For true Marxists, the bourgeoisie was a progressive class. This is basic, for without Adam Smith and Company, there would be no industrial society that could lead to a utopia that would eliminate toil and drudgery for the majority of humanity. For the others mentioned here and below in the biographies of the most important European anarchists, the bourgeoisie was evil, amoral, and thieving of the labor of workers and peasants. Nihilistic  gangs such as Baader-Meinhof or the Weathermen (as embodied in Bernadine Dohrn and William Ayers) hold to the violence of George Sorel. To what extent their beliefs have penetrated youth culture I cannot say for certain, but it should worry us all.

Bernadine Dohrn







Finally, given the intricacy of these European social movements and their chief ideologues, I hesitate to apply them willy nilly to American political figures. We are too given to easy labels, without nuance and without knowledge of revolutionary theories that were developed on crowded continents with autocratic ruling classes. There is no substitute for studying the labor movement in America. Let the intellectuals fret over “Why there is no socialism in America.”  We might do better to study shifting coalitions in American political parties as they existed in the past and in the campaign year of 2012. Are the varied components of either the Democratic or the Republican parties compatible with each other, or are they at odds? And does or does not this internal incoherence complicate our picture of the often enigmatic Barack Obama and his challengers?

[Illustrated: Isaac N. Steinberg, briefly in a coalition government with Lenin, leader of the Left Social Revolutionaries, and author of Workshop of the Revolution, that denounced the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, and the suppression of the mutinous Kronstadt sailors. Steinberg and his family–including his son Leo who went on to be a great and revered art historian–fled the Soviets in 1923. Steinberg went on to search for a homeland for the Jews that would not make them vulnerable to a sea of Arab neighbors.]

I.N. Steinberg

May 15, 2012

Progressive uplift vs. “New Left” nihilism

Bill Ayers, Weatherman

Several writers on the Right have been selling books with the premise that the Progressive movement in early 20th century America was protofascist, or fascist and racist. Their aim is to mobilize their constituencies to vote for organic conservatives like themselves in the hopes of halting “the nanny state.”  Similarly, they dwell on the President’s links to racist extremists in the period before he ran for office as a uniter, not a divider.

In this blog, I argue that it is an error to link in any way whatsoever the Progressive uplifters and more recent advocates of violence and anarchy. For uplift was an orderly process, an expression of the “moderate” strategies of the chief publicists of progressivism. It was also, at its core, defined against “revolutionary radicalism” as evidenced in the I.W.W. or anarchism in the labor movement. Here is a juicy example of their thought, taken from my book on Melville and from a previous blog. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/11/13/supermen-wanted-early-freudians-and-the-mob/, also https://clarespark.com/2010/03/10/jonah-goldbergs-liberal-fascism-part-one/.)

[Revolutionary Radicalism, “Epilogue”:] “In this rapid survey of a new and important educational idea we have carried Marja, the immigrant girl, from king and caste-ridden Europe to America, the land of hope and opportunity. We have seen her struggle with an unknown tongue and with ways of life unfamiliar to her. In the end we see her transformed, reborn–no longer foreign and illiterate, but educated and self-respecting. Later she will marry and her children, though they may have traditions of another land and another blood, will be Americans in education and ideals of life, government and progress. It was been worth while that one man has broken through this barrier and made the road clear for others to follow.

“All real education has the development of discipline as its basis. Poise, self-control and self-esteem are characteristic of the well-ordered mind, and the growth of these in the industrial worker makes for efficient service and better wages. Gradually there is an awakening of social consciousness–the awareness of one’s place in society and the obligations such membership entails upon the individual in respect to the group or racial mass, with a constantly developing sense of one’s personal responsibility in all human relationships.

“In conclusion, the higher significance of this work means that we must descend the shaft and share the lives of those that dwell in the lower strata–the teeming populations that never see the stars or the green grass, scent the flowers or hear the birds sing–the huddled, hopeless foreign folk of the tenements. We are living in the Age of Service, and are growing into a conviction that life is not a matter of favored races or small, exclusive social groups, but embraces all humanity and reaches back to God. To those of prophetic soul comes a vision of the day that haunted Tennyson when ‘The war-drum throbbed no longer and the battle flags were furled/ In the Parliament of Man, the Federation of the World.’ ” [From N.Y. State Legislature. Joint Committee Investigating Seditious Activities, Revolutionary radicalism: its history, purpose and tactics with an exposition and discussion of the steps being taken and required to curb it, being the report of the joint legislative committee investigating seditious activities filed April 24, 1920 in the Senate of the State of New York (Albany: J.B. Lyon, 1920), 2014, 2201, 3136-3137.]

Here we have a statement that is clearly ideological in favor of order and their version of Americanization; for a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/ .

Far different was the Prairie Fire contingent of Maoists (along with hippies and anarchists?): See /http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weather_Underground_Organization#Prairie_Fire_1974) who took over (replaced?) Students for A Democratic Society from the “Old Guard” in the late 1960s. First a bit of socialist history. In 19th century Marxist thought, it was the educated and urbanized working class that would comprise the vanguard of change. But after the stunning success of the Soviet coup in October 1917, Leninism (a branch of socialist thought that lauded bureaucratic centralism and the vanguard of intellectuals), the old Marxist anti-statist paradigm was discarded in favor of “Marxist-Leninism” with its attendant Trotskyist notion that the communist utopia could leapfrog over the bourgeois democratic phase, and stir the victims of imperialism to overthrow their European or American masters by any means necessary. (It was Stalin, not Trotsky, who insisted upon “socialism in one country.”) In China, a model for 1960s revolutionaries everywhere, the rural population was now the revolutionary vanguard, provided that they were taught by the correctly indoctrinated intellectual layer.

Such journalists as Theodore White and Edgar Snow transmitted the Maoist message to American radicals, where they received support from a communist-sympathetic faction in the U.S. Department of State.  (For details, see https://clarespark.com/2011/06/30/links-to-review-essay-on-hemingway-spy-mission-to-china/.)

To these developments in revolutionary theory, add the general brutalization caused by the slaughter of the Great War, much emphasized by George L. Mosse and his students at the U. of Wisconsin; while in the realm of culture, primitivism ruled the 1920s as a white response to the growing power or prestige of New Negroes, New Women, and working class radicalism. Indeed, Ernest Hemingway’s rise to cultural prominence as a manly prose stylist may be seen as a purification of the too-florid and feminized Victorian culture that had put white males on the defensive. Supermen were wanted, and supermen were provided by our leading writers in the Nietzsche fad that still finds adherents among ambitious students, for instance those who follow such decadent musicians as Jim Morrison and the Doors.

And what were the order-loving nativists of the Progressive movement doing after the war? They were certainly not manning the outposts of the grand innovations of mass media, including radio and the movies. Rather, that task fell to recent immigrants, who sought audiences among the masses whose instinctive populism was fully exploited, as I described here in my blog on Charles Murray (https://clarespark.com/2012/05/04/3957/):

“Early Hollywood had no illusions about mass taste, and provided adventure, sex and violence to a readymade audience that already was alienated from snooty and exclusive nativist old families. The Mayers or Goldwyns or Laemmles and their movie or television offspring still adhere to populist feeling and a hefty dose of primitivism. Social realism and didacticism do not sell, except as a warning to other “liberals” that the natives are restless and gun toting, or that criminals may be running everything. But Murray is worried that the white working class is obese and watches too much television, as if the skinnier upper classes do not enjoy the more sophisticated adventures, romance, soft porn, escapism, and even artiness provided by the younger writers and producers, affected as they have been by counter-culture naughtiness, identification with Marlon Brando or James Dean, clever parodies, and fun.”

When I first started my Pacifica radio programs on the art world in the early 1970s, I noticed that the Los Angeles hipster male artists were fans of Eldridge Cleaver and Malcolm X. Since I was relatively uneducated in the ways of black supremacy or nihilism* in general, I was not on guard. Not long ago, I checked out a copy of a manifesto titled Prairie Fire (1974), a production of the Weather Underground (authors William Ayers, Bernadine Dohrn, Jeff Jones, and Celia Sojourn). It was so violent in its language and in its aims, that I had to put it down; it was simply unbearable in its stridency. For a fictional peek into the European nihilists who were their contemporaries, see William Herrick’s Love and Terror (1981), a brilliant and disturbing work that reveals the mindset of the Baader-Meinhof gang. The intellectual antecedents of such urban terrorists are not to be found in the utopian thought of Marx, but in the ravings of such radicals as Marx’s rivals: Proudhon and Bakunin, earlier Babeuf, later George Sorel. For all of them “property is theft” and no crime is too vicious, no product of human labor off limits to their fury and defiance.

I wrote this blog because I see the some of the same thuggery in some protest movements (the “Red-Greens”, the Occupy Wall Street troops, Chicano irredentism, or black liberationist tendencies–see photo of Michelle Obama associating with the Nation of Islam below). I worry that the Baby Boomer parents of the antiwar generation who raised their children to be spontaneous and creative, will only egg on the mindless acting out in which they, the sadder but un-wiser generation, frequently indulged as young women and men. These nouvelle enragées owe nothing to the progressives who led both American political parties to dominance in the 20thcentury. It is also true that Communists infiltrated the progressive movement, using the Popular Front as their entry. The writing of “cultural history” has been deformed accordingly.

*By nihilism, I do not refer to anthropology that argues for cultural relativism and historicism, but to the apparent promotion of “beast of prey” by Nietzsche in such works as Beyond Good and Evil or The Genealogy of Morals, both read and studied by Jim Morrison (see comment below that defends Nietzsche against such readings).

Michelle Obama and friends

March 21, 2012

Big Cities and the Mob

Hip cultural historians are still studying the anomie (rootlessness) they impute to big cities. While watching a recent PBS documentary on the achievements of Oscar Hammerstein II, it occurred to me that his oeuvre as a whole pointed back to a period of imagined rural or small-town neighborliness, to a time before his mother died when the lyricist was only fifteen (Fordin bio). That “neighborliness” (a soothing social bond represented in the mother-child dyad) was then translated to his idealized anti-racist international community, as then proposed by the United World Federalists (also a pet project of Harvard’s social psychologist Henry A. Murray) or in the premises of the United Nations. Although Hammerstein was a noted liberal anticommunist, his attempt to unite groups and nations with clashing political and economic interests, reminded me of Hitler’s populist elevation of the Volk, and also the Soviet attempt to merge peasants and workers, notwithstanding that peasants and workers had different material interests, as explained in this blog. https://clarespark.com/2009/08/27/hitler-and-the-jewish-mind-part-three/.

Although I had not thought of nostalgia for the pre-urban America as an underlying theme in the social thought of the early progressives, I suggest that fear of Cain’s cities, with their imputed urban neurasthenia and exacerbated individualist striving, not to speak of class warfare, animated the emotions of the intellectuals described below. The Scary City is a theme now being taken up by cultural historians, mostly writing from the left, who may have more in common with these agrarian critics of modernity than they realize. (If you have time for only one blog, choose the scary city.)








It is important to remember that “mass culture” was considered to be a mobbish urban phenomenon that explained Hitler’s support and rise to power (the Frankfurt School story, see https://clarespark.com/2011/10/21/did-frankfurters-kill-the-white-christian-west/), but it was also the explanation for all manner of mental illnesses, particularly narcissism (vainglory), deranged relations between the genders, and constant back-stabbing. For an example, see the NBC series Smash, which although it appears to sympathetically portray the New York theater world from a feminist, pro-gay perspective, Smash also calls into question the values it apparently celebrates, for instance contrasting the loneliness of stardom with the mutual solidarity offered by chorus members to the Katherine McPhee character. (In the last installment, nothing “works” in NYC, including the plumbing and heating. I have watched all seven episodes again, and wonder if the contrast drawn between country and city life will now evolve into the corruption of the innocent Karen, who will, like Marilyn, be ruined by the mercenary, anti-art values of show business.) (For more on Smash, see https://clarespark.com/2012/05/18/smash-season-finales-and-the-demonic/.)

We are so wrong about the imputed innocence and wholesomeness of the  [judenrein] small town life hitherto enjoyed by “Karen Cartwright” who starts Smash with a truncated performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (JFK used “innocence” and “wholesome” to describe Marilyn Monroe’s lascivious Happy Birthday song). Alongside of tight families and neighborliness, there were also troubled social relationships and authoritarian conduct pushing toward mindless conformity, as such writers as Sherwood Anderson were quick to identify and condemn. We do better to read Anderson (Winesburg, Ohio), along with such authors as Mark Twain and Cormac McCarthy for a better reading of force and fraud in American 19th century frontier life and beyond. (See https://clarespark.com/2012/03/20/links-to-cormac-mccarthy-and-mark-twain-blogs/.)

It is time to rehabilitate the “rootless cosmopolitans” who have been unfairly demonized by multiculturalists: Stalinists and Nazis alike. As the black novelist and ex-communist Richard Wright once implied: “any place I hang my hat is home.” Thornton  Wilder’s Stage Manager, in Wright’s scenario, is nowhere to be found. (For one rendition of the Harold Arlen-Johnny Mercer song alluded to, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2mtEp2paaes.)

Thornton Wilder as Stage Manager in Our Town

April 9, 2011

Jean-Francois Revel and Father Mapple

This blog is about Jean-François Revel’s How Democracies Perish (1983), and how recent “anti-imperialist” scholarship as conducted in the most elevated reaches of academe has added to the demoralization of “the West” as it faces the threat of Islamic jihadism.

Revel (1924-2006) was a prolific French author, whose political background had put him in a favorable position to evaluate the weak response to Soviet aggression. He was a member of the French resistance during WWII, and later worked for President Mitterand as a speechwriter. One Facebook friend complained that Revel was a right-wing social democrat, implying that he was untrustworthy, but I find the liberal anticommunist position to be of great interest, since Revel seems to be a giant among public intellectuals. Compare his love of freedom to those in the current liberal academic elite who are leaders in condemning America and the civilized world as “white racists” and which, to this day, illicitly profit from “white skin privilege.” The latter academic opinion leaders have succeeded in ratifying the old Soviet line that the “free world” was in fact a slave world, undeserving of its defense against the peace-loving Soviet empire or Communist China and their client states in the Third World. The writing of U.S. history is almost entirely controlled by this cohort of Stalinoids. I do not refer solely to ethnic studies departments that are known to be separatist and bogus.

Such a claim that the West remains essentially racist takes the focus off of the foreign policy blunders of all American Presidents (up to Reagan) and most of the West after WWII. Revel’s major claim is that there was no Cold War at all, for that would assume that both superpowers acted in their own interest. Pas du tout, wrote Revel: The West was entirely submissive as the Soviets expanded without opposition, breaking their treaties, most of all the Yalta agreement, that had not “carved up the world” (as I was taught) but rather promised free elections in Poland, to give one stunning example of public ignorance of the facts. Stupidly and self-destructively, he wrote, the Allied armies abandoned Europe to the Soviets, allowed the Soviets to take and hold all of Eastern Europe and East Germany, were toothless when the Berlin Wall went up, and then the Soviet-directed Western peace movement imagined that the U.S. was not militarily weak and inferior to Soviet arms. In short, a failure of nerve and reluctance to use the traditional tools of diplomacy (i.e., you don’t make concessions before you begin negotiations), consigned the West to a foreign policy that was at best, flaccid. I have not begun to exhaust the claims of Revel’s classic work, all of which ring true to me.

I could have titled this blog “Who ain’t a slave? Tell me that.” That was a quote from the first chapter of Moby-Dick, and was written in the voice of Ishmael, the narrator. Most academic Melville critics pass over that remark as if it had merit as a statement of the human condition. But in the text itself, Ishmael has just rationalized his (unmanly) submission to an abusive ship’s captain. Ishmael’s passivity is contrasted to the abolitionist Father Mapple’s subsequent fiery and defiant sermon in seeking out the truth, no matter how apparently powerful the adversary.  Revel reminds us how weak the Soviet Union was immediately after the war, and moreover, that Stalin would have remained allied to Hitler had the latter not invaded the Soviet Union. What were our leaders thinking? (See my book Hunting Captain Ahab for a portrait of one Stalinist Melville biographer and critic, Jay Leyda, who remains untainted to this day in legitimate Melville circles, though he was a wily subverter of literary history and obviously a convinced communist and anti-American.)

We were chumps then, and the question remains, are we similarly toothless in resisting internal subversion and the threat from foreign terrorists alike? Will even liberal anticommunists such as Revel be dismissed as “rightists” who are paranoid and/or superpatriots?

[My thanks to political scientist Tom Nichols for recommending this book to me. Diane Ravitch even placed it in a recommended reading list, before she switched sides.]

October 29, 2009

The Enigmatic Face of Philosemitism

Image (78)[Update, 10-1-13: I have come around to rejecting the word “totalitarianism”, but possibly for different reasons than Heni’s. I also agree that the Holocaust, like fascism, was historically unique. I.e., I am comfortable with historicism. But the distinctiveness of the Holocaust does not preclude a new attempt to murder “the Jews.” ]

A new journal on the history of antisemitism has just appeared, featuring a stellar advisory board of scholars, and purporting to be philosemitic and pro-Israel. It is part of their intellectual mission to distinguish antisemitism from “prejudice” or “racism, ” but also to attack the theory of “totalitarianism” that would equate Nazi and Soviet forms of terror. Clemens Heni, one of their authors and a founding member of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East,  in his blog “The Prague Declaration, Trivialization of the Holocaust, and Antisemitism,” argues that the moral equivalence of Stalinist and Hitlerian murder denies the uniqueness of the Holocaust; indeed that habit is taken to be a mini-form of Holocaust denial! As if Stalin had not had his own plans for the Jews, embodied in the Doctor’s Plot and cut short only by his death in 1953. (For details on Soviet treatment of Jews during the second world war, see Niall Ferguson’s War of the World.)

You can find the first issue at http://jsantisemitism.org/pdf/jsa_1-1.pdf. I have read Dr. Heni’s article,  “Antisemitism as a Specific Phenomenon,” who writes of the irrationality of antisemitism:  “No group of people but the Jews has ever been singled out and blamed even for opposite developments, such as both capitalism and communism, and being weak-willed but powerful enough to take over the planet.” (Heni took his degree in political science, and was for a year a post-doctoral researcher at YIISA (The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism. One of his two books is Salonfähig der Neuen Rechten–a sarcastic title indicating that the author is writing from somewhere on the Left.)

It is my view that we are in the murky territory of the moderate men again. [Added 3-22-10: When I wrote this blog, I had not studied the Burke revival in the twentieth century. It was particular organic conservatives (following Burke) who twinned Nazism and Stalinism, constantly using the term “totalitarianism.” Both Nazism and Communism were seen as the effluent of puffed-up Jacobins and other mechanical materialists, displacing religion by worshipping the Goddess of Reason, re-inventing the State and hence usurping God. Cf. Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism.] It depends on what we mean by rationalism and irrationalism. “Irrational” suggests to me that the theory of projection, advocated by social psychologists allied to moderate conservatism, is in play. (See my prior blog on Adorno’s harmonizing of Freud’s theory of incessant conflict, substituting in its place of constant struggle to achieve civilized behavior, a “balance” between id, ego, and superego; the happy outcome would be “genuine liberalism;” see that chapter in The Authoritarian Personality and https://clarespark.com/2009/08/25/t-w-adorno-and-his-funny-idea-of-genuine-liberalism/. In other words, what is presented as a bold new approach to the history of antisemitism is probably yet another defense of “moderate” statism, hence the outrage at equating Nazism and Stalinism. Nazism is usually hung on “the Right” or “fascist Republicans” by  Stalinists. But see R. Palme Dutte blaming social democrats in 1934, prior to the Popular Front.)

Take the quote from Heni’s article, above, describing the “irrationality” of antisemitism for confusing capitalists and communists–a claim I have seen countless times elsewhere. Convinced antisemites had no trouble with this supposed cognitive dissonance: Gentlemanly organic conservatives understood that atheistic science-plagued modernity had bred lucre-loving capitalists, and then in reaction to their [typically “Jewish” capitalist greed and exploitation] communism raised its ugly head. The solution to the onset of a disenchanted modern world would be a Christianized capitalism. Look no further than Christian Socialism, Bismarck’s welfare state, the Fabians in Britain, Rerum Novarum ( the encyclical issued by Leo XIII in 1891)  or the social gospel movement in America, followed here by populism and progressivism. Hitler himself advocated a “third way” between capitalism and communism,* meanwhile opposing “Jewish Bolshevism” in the Soviet Union as a mere front for “finance capital” and not socialism at all. My point is that these mostly European movements were reacting against the displacement of an aristocratic elite by the new men—the moderns, whose elevation of hard science, hard work, novel financial instruments, and free markets threatened the property and lifestyles of the landowning class and  their employees, dependents, and allies. In Britain, Young England represented a coalition between aristocrats and the working class against the rising industrial bourgeoisie (see Disraeli’s Sybil, or The Two Nations for their outlook; detail here: https://clarespark.com/2011/07/16/disraelis-contribution-to-social-democracy/).

So far I have mentioned as examples of rationality (as opposed to ostensible antisemitic irrationality) the Third Way of the moderate men. But think now of the benefits to Nazis and other antisemites if the Jews were either removed from their regions (as in Israel) or from their nations (as in the Third Reich): the expropriation of Jewish property and the elimination of Jewish rivals in business and the professions, or relief from the unpredictable chaos brought about by political and technical innovations in general, let alone the restless and “skeptical” Jewish mind that so frazzled Hitler and probably Stalin. Think especially of antisemitism as backlash against the emancipation of the Jews after the French Revolution, with all the reasons just mentioned.

*[From Hitler’s Table Talk:] The English have to settle certain social problems which are ripe to be settled.  At present these problems can still be solved from above, in a reasonable manner.  I tremble for them if they don’t do it now.  For if it’s left to the people to take the initiative, the road is open to madness and destruction.  Men like Mosley would have had no difficulty in solving the problem, by finding a compromise between Conservatism and Socialism, by opening the road to the masses but without depriving the élite of their rights.  Class prejudices can’t be maintained in a socially advanced State like ours, in which the proletariat produces men of such superiority.  Every reasonably conducted organization is bound to favour the development of beings of worth.  It has been my wish that the educative organisations of the Party should enable the poorest child to lay claim to the highest functions, if he has enough talent.  The Party must see to it, on the other hand, that society is not compartmentalized so that everyone can quickly assert his gifts.  Otherwise discontent raises its head, and the Jew finds himself in just the right situation to exploit it.  It’s essential that a balance should be struck, in such a way that dyed-in-the-wool Conservatives may be abolished as well as Jewish and Bolshevik anarchists….(Jan. 27, 1942, p. 253).

[Illustrated: Picasso’s La Dama de Azul, with the Pierrot mask as I read it]

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