Two crossposts from Three Way Fight on the Occupy movement and the Right:
1.) Anti-capitalism versus populism
Occupy Wall Street is one of the most exciting political developments in years, but like any social movement it has its contradictions. As I noted briefly at the end of my previous post, the Occupy movement is vulnerable to right-wing overtures to the extent that many progressive-minded activists lack clear anti-capitalist and anti-fascist politics. While some Occupiers have put forward a radical class analysis, others have voiced a sort of liberal populism, which identifies the problem as specific institutions, policies, or subjective behaviors rather than the capitalist system. Several leftists on other websites have addressed this political limitation and its unfortunate resonances with right-wing ideology. Here I want to summarize some of their main points, then offer an important counter-example of Occupy movement anti-capitalism – the plan by West coast Occupy movements to blockade ports on December 12th.
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2.) Rightists woo the Occupy Wall Street movement
Most right-wing responses to the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement have ranged from patronizing to hostile. Rightists have variously criticized the Occupy forces for–supposedly–copying the Tea Party; failing to target big government; being dirty, lazy lawbreakers; being orchestrated by pro-Obama union bosses and community organizers; having ties with radical Islamists; fomenting antisemitism; or failing to address Jewish dominance of Wall Street. (On the Jewish Question, the John Birch Society wants to have it both ways–arguing that antisemitic attacks are integral to the Occupy movement’s leftist ideology, but also that the movement is bankrolled by Jewish financier George Soros, who is backed by “the unimaginably vast Rothschild banking empire.”)
At the same time, some right-wingers have joined or endorsed Occupy events, causing some leftists and liberals to raise warning flags. Neonazis have shown up at Occupy Phoenix and been kicked out of Occupy Seattle, where leftists formed an antifascist working group to keep them out. The Liberty Lamp, an anti-racist website, has identified a number of right-wing groups that have sought to “capitalize on the success” of OWS, including several neonazi organizations, Oath Keepers (a Patriot movement group for police and military personnel), libertarian supporters of Texas congressmember Ron Paul, and even the neoconservative American Spectator magazine. Leonard Zeskind’s Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights has warned against Tea Party supporters “who want to be friends with the Occupiers,” including FedUpUSA, Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty, and conspiracist talk show host Alex Jones. The International Socialist Organization has focused on Ron Paul libertarians as a particular threat to the Occupy movement. In a related vein, the socialist journal Links reposted a detailed expose of Zeitgeist (aka the Venus Project), a conspiracist cult that has been involved in Occupy movement events, many of whose ideas are rooted in antisemitism or other right-wing ideology.
There is always a danger that some rightists will come to Occupy movement events to harass or attack leftists, or act as spies or provocateurs. More commonly, rightists see the movement as an opportunity to gain credibility, win new recruits, or build coalitions with leftists. When pitching to left-leaning activists, these right-wingers emphasize their opposition to the U.S. economic and political establishment–but downplay their own oppressive politics. In place of systemic critiques of power, rightists promote distorted forms of anti-elitism, such as conspiracy theories or the belief that government is the root of economic tyranny. We’ve seen this “Right Woos Left” dynamic over and over, for example in the anti-war, environmental, and anti-globalization movements.
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On this day in 1938 was the so-called “Kristallnacht,” the mass pogroms in Germany and German occupied Austria.
“Across the land: The map shows places in the Greater German Reich and in the Free State of Danzig, where in November 1938 Synagogues and Jewish shops were destroyed. It includes 1,283 entries; because of the still unfinished research the full amount of the destruction is still not completely known today. Names of places appear according to their current names.”
This map was published by the newspaper Jüdische Allgemeine Zeitung in Germany in 2008.
*The term “Kristallnacht” was coined by the Nazi Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebels. It dresses up the systematic attacks against the Jews as mere broken windows. The map shows how widespread the attacks were, which were organized by the state, and involved the murder of hundreds of Jews throughout the week, tens of thousands who were deported to concentration camps, plus the irretrievable damage done to Synagogues, businesses, and other property. The appropriate term for the events is “Reichspogromnacht”, which roughly translates into “state organized night of pogroms.” The events mark the switch from discrimination to systematic persecution and eventually extermination of the Jewish population.
A recent article on the massacre in Norway, forwarded by a reader to Contested Terrain for posting, raises interesting questions about how to interpret the contemporary Right. Here is a quick response to one small selection.
Breivik’s actions were disgusting; yet they also indicated the weakness of the far right in Norway. As we saw in Britain in the early 1980s, after a strong anti-racist movement halted the National Front’s electoral progress, fascists and their fellow-travellers are more likely to choose violence when their political ambitions are frustrated.
It seems to me that the European and American Right has been moving rather in the direction of a populist approach. Of course there are distinctions and disagreements within the Right about strategy though, and Right-wing violence has been on the rise in recent years, but so has a populist approach which also has violence in its language, its symbolism and its discourse.
Therefore, to be clear, this article — like many on the topic — seems to treat violence as a mere tactic or strategy external to the political content of the Right. Violence is taken up as a expression of desperation, it is argued. But how accurate is this when right-wing policies have been on the advance for some time now? Is it not rather that the rightward drift in policy — a formal form of violence of the state — empowers and encourages the direct form of violence — as in the Norwegian massacre? And aren’t these forms of violence also linked quite closely? The stripping of the welfare state — a form of (state) violence itself — targeting a population that is now again re-targeted with direct and brute force from individuals in “civil society”? Or in the case of the Norway massacre, targeting those who administer the formal (ie. state) domination of immigrants, ethnic minorities and others? In short, I am not sure Right-wing violence is so much a strategy or tactic as a result of frustrated ambitions, as it is an expression of Right-wing politics itself, which at least on the formal (state) level has been on the march for some time, “indirect” forms administered by the state, which now encourage also direct forms of domination taken by individuals in “civil society.” Just some food for thought.
A recent article at New Jewish Resistance and World War 4, titled “Will ‘Hilltop Youth’ co-opt rent protests?” purports to be about the mass housing protests currently rocking Israel. The author, Bill Weinberg, cites the participation of (an incredibly marginal number of) right-wing activists in the events, the “Hilltop Youth”. Don’t get me wrong, the far right should always be pushed out of these events, and the proposals to “solve” the housing crisis through settlement expansion should be opposed, but Weinberg’s portrayal of this group as potentially “co-opting” the protests is a joke. The protest is being led by the National Student Union, and the Histadrut Trade Union will possibly increase its influence as well. The protesters’ demands put forth to Netanyahu are a set of tax-relief programs, support for more accessible mortgages, free education, and increased materials and funding for hospitals. The National Student Union opposed Netanyahu’s attempts to buy them off with the construction of separate student housing. Yes, Netanyahu might attempt to use the protests against rental *prices* to claim there is a housing *shortage* and therefore the need for West Bank settlement expansion. That is certainly something the protesters should be aware of and to guard against. But this too would not mean that this small far-right group had “co-opted” the protests, simply that Netanyahu were able to turn the protests to his advantage, supporting his current policies. But you don’t have to read much of Weinberg’s short post to notice that it is not even about the housing protests nor these settler activists. Those are simply hooks in order to force the reader into a fight over whether or not Zionism is Nazism. There is not much content to this, just the dogma that West Bank Settlements are equivalent to Nazi “Lebensraum” policies. While you may have initially thought you were reading a commentary about the housing protests and the political conflicts that may play out within them, you now realize that you’ve been hooked into a fight on another topic altogether. And the author makes that clear when he closes the article, not by asking the readers to challenge him on his view that the “Hilltop Youth” will co-opt the protests, but on the analogy between West Bank settlement and Nazi “Lebensraum” policy. “Please explain the flaws in our analogy,” Weinberg challenges you. “We’ll be waiting.” This is some tough-talking, slimy, manipulative antizionism.
How did I know that the article posted to the Left Business Observer listserve, “Analysis of the Global Insurrection Against Neo-Liberal Economic Domination and the Coming American Rebellion” was going to end up with comments like this one:
“What percentage of Zionista Jews work in the financial services sector that have no marketable skills, other than to make a living on screwing you the sheeple?”
And why is it not a surprise that the website which posted that piece of trash article did not remove the comment?
Originally posted at Bob from Brockley:
Pending the discovery of some better way for groups of people to band together for mutual protection, the sharing of other social aims, resources and facilities, and the voluntary pursuit of common cultural ways, states based on national (or sometimes multi-national) collectivities are the best way we have.
What’s amazing about this statement is its completely abstract character. As I wrote in a comment on Bob’s post:
It would have been more honest to start with an observation of how national sovereignty fails to achieve any of those listed objectives. The incredible gulf between rich and poor of “the same nation” is only the most obvious example to look at to see [this] failure, but many more [examples] come to mind, say the incredible disproportion of poor, blacks, latinos and immigrants whose only opportunity for social advance is to put their lives at risk in service of the military.
The raw fact of inequality amongst those who “belong to the national collectivity” is completely overlooked, not to mention the affect on those who don’t belong.Why does Geras resort to a Rousseauian fable about the consensually “banding together” of people, who emerge out of the state of nature, to protect their collective interests? Not only do we know that the emergence of nation-states is one of conquest and domination, their contemporary existence, which we experience daily, continues to show its power. This is no secret, and certainly not to a university professor in the social sciences. So, it is a mystery why Geras chose to defend the nation-state on the grounds of abstract arguments divorced from the reality we all experience.
Objecting to Bob’s criticism of the nation, Geras writes, “All that sovereignty requires is some reality to the idea of a community of individuals sharing a common territory.” Apparently, the delimited aspect that necessarily determines this “community” and the power it determines over a geographic area in regards to the flow of people across nation-state borders (during the most mobile period in human history) is not of concern.
But besides from these points, it should be most striking that “the nation” is not only problematic in terms of its delimiting quality in relation to “the outsider”, but also in its political trajectory. In the current global recession, when political leaders across all countries are slashing the remnants of the welfare state, and justifying these policies on the grounds of producing a state that is internationally competitive, we see that the propping up of “the national” today follows a terribly repressive course, in which the many are told to tighten their belts, because “we” are all in it together. The recent social protests against austerity measures in multiple European countries, measures that are done in the name of making a more competitive national state, shows that the national stands in the way of emancipation. What is needed is something that breaks with the nation-state, not something that reinforces it.
Update: Bob from Brockley responded here: On nations and states and Norman Geras responded here: Sovereignty – some points in defence.
In his “Obama Isn’t Spineless, He’s Conservative” Paul Street argues that Obama’s policies are not based on ideas about economic redistribution, but rather on that of a national competitive state seeking to maintain its global hegemony on the world market. This short selection shows how nationalist thinking operates in the form of neoliberal international competition, and is not the sole domain of the far-Right and racists. It shows how nationalism can be tightly bound with the rejection of social justice and the pursuance of a higher rank on the capitalist hierarchy. The following is a long selection from Street’s article:
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In a recent interview (German; English translation), French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard responds to the recent controversy over charges of antisemitism that was covered by the New York Times (“An Honorary Oscar Revives a Controversy”) earlier this month. His comments show a combination of avoidance, ignorance and philosemitism. Here is a response to two comments of his:
Once again, there is a debate in Jewish newspapers about whether or not you are an anti-Semite. Does this hurt you?
That’s nonsense! What does ‘anti-Semite’ mean? All peoples of the Mediterranean were Semites. So anti-Semite means anti-Mediterranean. The expression was only applied to Jews after the Holocaust and WWII. It is inexact and means nothing.
This is a packed few sentences. First, it is not “anti-Semite” that “means nothing,” but rather “Semite” that “means nothing.” “Semite” is a term developed by racial “theorists” to develop a biological conception of social-historical phenomenon, and to categorize “semitic speaking peoples.” Yes, Hebrew and Arabic speaking individuals speak semitic languages, but this does not make all Jews and Arabs are “Semites,” unless you truly believe in racial “theories.”
“Anti-Semitism” was however not directed at semitic speaking people, it was directed at Jews in particular (whether Hebrew-speaking ones or not), and was an entire world-view, aimed at modernizing Jew-hatred.
If Godard has beef with the term, he should take that up with those who invented it, which he also shows his ignorance about. It was not after the Holocaust and World War Two when the term “anti-semite” became “only applied to Jews,” but rather decades before these events, and was employed as a term to describe oneself, to give a modern appearances to an ancient animosity, and to develop a political program. (One can look up Wilhelm Marr and the Antisemiten-Liga, the “League of Anti-Semites.” )
The view that the term was only applied to Jews after the Holocaust and World War Two dabbles in revisionist history and the accusation that Jews monopolize the term for themselves.
The term “anti-Semite” is “inexact” only if one believes the literal translation, and fails to consider the social-historical meaning of the term. Because this social-historical reality exists, the term does not “mean nothing.”
The question — which inquires into his relationship to Jews — is completely avoided in his psuedo-intellectual answer. Well done!
You once said you were a ‘Jew of cinema’. What does this mean?
I want to be together with everyone else, but stay lonely. I wanted to express this contradiction.
Of course, the philosemitic part of antisemitism. The desire to be the Jew one imagines the Jew to be.
A short critique from Doug Henwood of attempts to separate finance capital from “productive capital,” and the relation such positions have to antisemitim, racism, and nationalism.
From Left Business Observer #119, July 2009.
The whole point of production under capitalism is not the satisfaction of needs, but the accumulation of money. In other words, it’s impossible to separate the economic world into a good productive side and a bad financial side; the two are inseparable. The monetary surpluses generated in production—the profits of capitalist businesses—accumulate over time and demand some sort of outlet: bank deposits, bonds, stocks, whatever. It’s going to be that way until we replace capitalism with something radically different.
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I thought a left-right alliance was out of the question for self-respecting leftists, but with so-called leftists from Counterpunch to Infoshop.org promoting such an alliance with regular publications of American nationalist and antisemitic texts from the right-wing-libertarian website, antiwar.com, and elsewhere, the issue must be directly addressed. Here is an article from Socialist Action, explicitly opposing left-right coalitions.
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