Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Here There is No Why?

To paraphrase Albert Camus, there are moral acts and there are political acts, just as there are moral crimes and political crimes.  In the case of Chomsky's support for Robert Faurisson, we must try to delineate that space between the moral and political which Chomsky so often blurs to his own advantage.  We must do so not merely for the sake of intellectual honesty, but also out of a certain moral imperative; it is unacceptable to dismiss the Faurisson affair as beyond understanding; when the denial of the murder of millions is involved, we have an obligation to seek a why, and not merely throw up our hands in disgust.  In my opinion, Chomsky's relationship to Faurisson cannot be explained by shallow deference to an absolutist Libertarianism or by easy intimations of a mere "cloaked" or "disguised" anti-semitism.  Nor are Chomsky's actions mere eccentricities or the exhortations of a vaguely disorded mind.  They are, I believe, entirely logical and understandable within the context of an obscure, but nonetheless significant political tradition.  Chomsky's surprisingly sanguine attitude towards Holocaust Denial, or "Negation" as it is termed -- with greater accuracy, in my opinion -- in France, stems from discernable sources: from his anarchist ideology, from his embrace of Third World radicalism, from his self-declared war with the Jewish establishment of the West, and from his own unconventional, but quite palpable anti-semitism.

Contrary to popular belief, a conspicuous strain of anti-semitism has existed on the revolutionary Left from its inception; and it is to this tradition, and not its reactionary counterpart, to which Chomsky may claim precedence.  This anti-semitism was neither subtle nor confined, indeed, it is possible to say without exagerration that, of all the movement's founding theoreticians, nearly every single one was an outspoken anti-semite to a greater or lesser degree.  Among the most prominent was Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the spiritual father of anarchism and architect of the phrase "property is theft", who remarked famously that "The Jew is the enemy of mankind.  It is necessary to send this race back to Asia, or exterminate it...By fire or fusion, or by expulsion, the Jew must disappear...", words so violent that Proudhon has, ironically enough, come to be seen by later historians as something of a proto-fascist.  Another legendary anarchist founder, the Russian Mikael Bakunin, was no more sanguine than Proudhon on the subject of Jewry, calling them "an exploiting sect, a bloodsucking people, a unique devouring parasite..."; he was joined by the likes of Fourier, Duhring, and, especially, Marx, who I will return to momentarily.  Unlike the reactionary, racialist strain of anti-semitism which began slightly later and would culminate in the Nazi regime, this ideology drew its inspiration from the writings of French Enlightenment anti-semites like Voltaire, who had in turn been inspired by pagan Jew-haters like the Roman historian Tacitus.  Where reactionary anti-semitism excoriated the Jews as pollutants -- agents of corrupted modernity and "progress" undermining traditionally pure Christian, and later Aryan, society -- the revolutionary Left attacked Judaism from the opposite direction: as the primary obstacle and enemy of freedom, enlightenment, and progress.  Where the reactionaries assaulted Judaism for its corrosive universalism, its cosmopolitan ethos; the revolutionaries attacked it for its particularism, its ideology of "Chosenness".  In their eyes, the Jews were arrogant and separatist "haters of mankind", as Tacitus had put it, and the harbingers of oppressive, egoistic capitalism -- thus, Judaism was, in its very existence, a negation of the revolutionary values of universalism and egalitarianism.  Karl Marx, the most intellectually creative and rhetorically violent of the Leftist anti-semites saw Jews "simultaneously as real-life agents of egoistic capitalism and as metaphors for the whole of sinful society."  Or, as Edmund Silberner describes Marx's concept:
Judaism has contempt for nature, theory, art, history, and man as an end in himself.  It considers everything as an object of trade...Judaism as such is for Marx an expression of a self-alienated society...
As Marx saw it, capitalism was Judaism and Judaism capitalism:
[M]oney has become a world power, and the practical Jewish spirit has become the practical spirit of Christian nations.  The Jews have liberated themselves in so far as Christians have become Jews...The Jew who exists as a particular member of bourgeois society is only the particular expression of the Judaism of bourgeois society...Out of its own entrails bourgeois society continually creates Jews.
In Marx's eyes, the Jews are both creators and creation -- quite literally the excrement -- of bourgeois capitalism.  As he concludes ferociously:  "The social emancipation of Jewry is the emancipation of society from Jewry."  In the revolutionary lexicon, of course, the Judaization of capitalism was nothing less than a Judaization of evil.  In the 1970s, German Leftist anti-semite and sometime collaborator with the PLO Ulrike Meinhof would sum up the modern version of this chimera

Auschwitz meant that six million Jews were killed...for what they were: money Jews.  Finance capital and the banks, the hard core of the system of imperialism and capitalism, had turned the hatred of men against money and exploitation and agaionst the Jews...Antisemitism is really a hatred of capitalism.
Thus, the primary act of revolution -- the annihilation of the capitalist system by violence -- becomes also the annihilation of Judaism. 

Chomsky rarely steps beyond the boundaries of this tradition; in his eyes the Jews and Judaism are an inextricable part and personification of the oppressive establishment of the West.  Or, in his own words: "By now Jews in the US are the most privileged and influential part of the population." [Emphasis mine - Benjamin]  The Jews, and particularly their national/political expression in the State of Israel -- which Chomsky sees as little more than an armed outpost of American imperialism -- are a formidable tool in the hands of the established order, and earnest collaborators in its crimes.  The Jewish intellectual establishment -- Faurisson's tormentors --  are viewed by Chomsky as traitors to the Left; closet racists and imperialists claiming universal values while secretly pursuing their own particularist interests.  Their accusations of anti-semitism are merely a tool intended to silence honest critics of their unholy alliance with Western imperialism, and the Holocaust merely a rhetorical weapon to justify Israel's various atrocities.  Or, as Chomsky himself puts it in classic Meinhofian fashion
Anti-Semitism is no longer a problem, fortunately. It’s raised, but it’s raised because privileged people want to make sure they have total control, not just 98% control. That’s why anti-Semitism is becoming an issue. Not because of the threat of anti-Semitism; they want to make sure there’s no critical look at the policies the US (and they themselves) support in the Middle East.
Thus, to speak for the Jews becomes speaking for "privileged people" who "want to make sure they have total control", a trope so obvious its pedigree hardly needs mentioning.  Of course, conspiratorial myths of Jewish power are not the sole catalyst at work in this statement; it is equally an expression of Chomsky's Third Worldist Manicheanism.  For, while Chomsky does not deny the Holocaust literally, he does deny it morally.  That is, he does not recognize the place of the Holocaust in the Western cultural ethos as legitimate.  For Chomsky, the great crimes of history were not those of Fascism or Nazism but rather those of Western capitalism and imperialism; crimes all the more horrendous as they continue to this day. 

And this leads us to the consummation of a horrendous dialectic.  In Chomsky's moral lexicon, the denial of the Holocaust ceases to be an assault against history or a racist abrogation of truth and becomes an act of insurrectionary rebellion.  For Chomsky, a strike against the Jews amounts to a strike against the established order, an uprising which, in the classic anarchist tradition, must be celebrated and defended as a blow for human freedom.  Faurisson, as a partisan of the Palestinian cause; an enemy of this privileged, collaborationist Judaism and its suffocating power masquerading behind a mythos of victimhood; is axiomatically on the side of the angels and his enemies, therefore, nothing more than artisans of oppression and violence.  The truth of Faurisson's claims, and the moral weight of his negation, is thus less than an irrelevancy.  It is all a matter of who is on the side of Chomsky's holy innocents.  But this is not the unkindest cut, the real crime at the heart of Chomsky's defense of Faurisson is not in his deference to Faurisson's negation but rather in the moral inversion by which he embraces it; for under the pillars of this church Faurisson's lie becomes an agent of justice and the bearers of truth -- those who touched the reality Faurisson seeks to erase, and lived to speak of it; and those extinguished shades for whom memory remains their sole memorial -- are defamed and their sufferings blasphemed.  In this light, Chomsky's morality appears to us as nothing less than an embrace of murder, a genuflection before the assassination of memory; an homage cheerfully rendered, even in the face of Auschwitz itself.  Saying perhaps more than he knew, Pierre Vidal-Naquet has called Faurisson "a paper Eichmann", if so, what are we then to make of this paper Chomsky, who hands himself over so utterly, and with such impassioned ease, to the cause of the assassins?

A note as to sources:
An excellent overview of radical and reactionary anti-semitism in the 19th century can be found in Revolutionary Antisemitism by Paul Lawrence Rose; the description of Marx's anti-semitic ideology quoted in the second paragraph is from Rose's book, as is the quote from Ulrike Meinhof.  George Lichtheim's 1968 essay "Socialism and the Jews", found in his Collected Essays was also quite useful on this subject.  Karl Marx's remarks from On the Jewish Question have been published in a small pamphlet called A World Without Jews.  Edmund Silberner's seminal article "Was Marx an Anti-Semite?" is also indispensible.  A good overview of the complex and often paradoxical relationship between the Jews and the modern Left is to be found in The Left, The Right and the Jews by W.D. Rubinstein.  Pierre Vidal-Naquet's already mentioned Assassins of Memory is an extraordinary collection of essays on Holocaust Denial in general and the Faurisson affair in particular.  Chomsky's remarks on anti-semitism can be found in this previous post.