Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Why the NY Times is Politically Clueless

I'm sure many saw this in the NYTimes this morning. What you may have missed was this little gem:
Mr. Hall was a rising force in the party, which has capitalized on a tide of anti-immigrant sentiment to attract members — young racist skinheads, aging Ku Klux Klan members, and extremists on the left and the right.
"Extremists on the left". Yes, you heard it. Yes, evidently the line coming from the NYTimes is that "extremists" on the "left" are every bit as likely to join the US Nazi movement as "young racist skinheads, aging Ku Klux Klan members and right extremists". That is fucking offensive. It's basically slander.

Last time I checked, "workers of the world unite!" doesn't exactly sit easily with wanting to secede to create a "white society".

First of all, the "far left", or the "hard left", or, if you like, the so-called "extreme" left has always been the most determined and uncompromising force against fascism and the hard right. Look at history. We can find plenty of instances in which mainstream conservatives (and even liberals) strike an indifferent, or even slightly sympathetic, posture vis-a-vis hard-right xenophobia, nationalism, and fascism. It's easy for these mainstream political forces to re-write history from where they're sitting now. But at the most crucial moments in U.S. history when xenophobia, nationalism, and quasi-fascist movements were on the rise, it has almost always been the case that the radical left was the most vocal, uncompromising force opposed to such developments.

Without fail, the far Left has consistently been the most determined, uncompromising opponents of fascism and racism.

Think of the role of Communists in the 1930s in fighting for the Scottsboro Boys when liberals and conservatives were happy with the status quo as it was. Democrats in the South, in conjunction with KKK terrorism and violence, were responsible for rolling back the gains of Reconstruction and reimposing the apartheid order that came to be known as Jim Crow. Leftists lost their lives struggling against this re-imposition of de jure racism when liberals and conservatives were quite happy with the white supremacist order over which they presided.

Comtemporary examples abound. When complacent, "tolerant" liberals shrug their shoulders at the re-emergence of White Power and fascist groups in the public square, it has consistently been the socialist Left that has courageously stood up to the bigots. The article mentions counter-protesters in LA hurling bottles and rocks at the fascists. I can guarantee you the counter-protesters weren't from the DNC. They were probably exactly what the NYTimes deems "extreme leftists", namely socialists, communists, anarchists and so forth.

The far Left has been unanimous in absolutely opposing the rise of xenophobia and racism exemplified by SB1070. In fact, it has been the Left which has organized the most fierce resistance to these developments. Recall the Columbia students in the International Socialist Organization who stormed the stage to interrupt an event meant to give the fascist, murderous Minutemen Project a forum to express their racist bile. Liberals jumped to the defense of the Minutemen on grounds of being "moderate" and "tolerant" and so forth. But the Left was uncompromising in saying that we cannot ever tolerate fascism, xenophobic violence or hard-right hatred. A free society is incompatible with tolerating such toxic, violent hatred. To "tolerate" it is to acquiesce. This is exactly what Herbert Marcuse was talking about when he spoke of "repressive tolerance".

"Nazi Punks Fuck Off!"
is not a liberal slogan.

I've never been able to accept the bit of liberal ideology which asserts that the point between two "extremes" is therefore credible. I guess I'm just not a "tolerant" moderate when it comes to opposing oppression. I think injustice and oppression never deserve to be tolerated. If that's enough to make me an "extremist", then so be it.


Richard said...

I didn't read the article, but I suspect that the ideological justification for this conflation of radical leftists and neo-Nazis is leftist opposition to Zionism, because, only anti-semites can object to Zionism, didn't you know?

-sf said...

its no coincidence that David Duke and Jeremiah Wright speak with one voice on Israel. What did Obama say about focusing on what unites us rather than what divides us?

t said...

I'm not even sure I'm convinced that the ideological justification is that well thought out. I was thinking more that it was just the old Isaiah Berlin-style Cold Warrior conflation of communism and fascism as "totalitarianism".

As far as Jeremiah Wright is concerned, I haven't heard what he has to say about Israel. But it shouldn't be deduced from his criticism of the Israeli state that he is an anti-Semite. If, on the other hand, he's made anti-semitic remarks, he should be criticized accordingly.

I don't know what you mean by "it's no coincidence". If you're suggesting that all critics of Israel are closet anti-Semites that's absurd.

Anonymous said...

That suggestion by the New York Times is fucking bullshit. What is the "extreme left" to them? Even Stalinists and Maoists, wrong as they are in many way, are unequivocal in their unremitting hatred of fascists. To imagine Nazis recruiting from the Freedom Road Socialist Party is a bit like imagining Focus on the Family recruiting from NARAL and Planned Parenthood. Politically confused non-sense.

Richard said...

"Even Stalinists and Maoists, wrong as they are in many way, are unequivocal in their unremitting hatred of fascists. To imagine Nazis recruiting from the Freedom Road Socialist Party is a bit like imagining Focus on the Family recruiting from NARAL and Planned Parenthood."

Just to follow up on Anonymous, back in the early 1990s in downtown Sacramento, leftist skinheads and neo-Nazi ones violently attacked one another at a local coffee shop.

-sf said...

t its not the fact that Wright criticizes Israel its the way that both he and Duke draw on the Nazi/Soviet myth of conspiratorial Jewish Power ("Them Jews ain't going to let [Obama] talk to me,"). I guess a better comparison would be David Duke and Farrakhan as both are openly Jew haters. I think you had a post on how not to criticize Obama lest one be perceived a racist. In the same way that one should avoid drawing on racist tropes when criticizing the first black president one should also avoid anti-Semitic tropes when criticizing the world's only Jewish state (but please, please do criticize). Critics of Israel do themselves no favor when they wade into the swamp of Jew hatred to lodge legitimate complaints against Israeli policy (see Helen Thomas). As an example of how antisemitism creeps into mainstream political discourse check out this paper from the Yale Interdisciplinary Initiative on Antisemitism about how political cartoons from the Nazis the Soviets and the present day recycle the same images and memes when criticizing Jews (former) and Israel (latter). (scroll to "Action Item 2) Truth be told many are from the Arab world which is undeniably hostile to the Jews, but a few notables from Chicago Tribune and Seattle Times frighteningly mimic Nazi/Soviet imagery.

t said...

I think it's important to draw a sharp distinction between Stalinism and fascism. Both were disasters, but they were very different kinds of disasters.

Stalinism grew out of a counter-revolution that erased the gains of the October Revolution. It hardly needs saying that pre-Revolutionary Russia was not a welcoming place for Jews. But several of the instigators of the revolution (most prominently Trotsky) were Jewish, and the revolution itself rolled back many of the reactionary forces responsible for pogroms during Czarist Russia. If there had not been a revolution, fascism would not have been an Italian word; it would have been coined in Russian.

So it's important to note the sense in which the early years of the RR represented a big step forward not just for the working class, but also for women and minorities.

But, of course, Stalinism is a different story. The entire Stalinist notion of "socialism in one country" is already chauvinist and proto-racist. It is well-known that he reconsolidated quasi-nationalist tendencies in Russia to solidify his power. Moreover, his viscous crusade to destroy Trotsky included plenty of anti-Semitic attacks on him as a "wandering Jew", etc. This is crazy considering that these were precisely the kinds of attacks that the European Right-wing had used to try to discredit the revolution back when Trotsky was leading the Red Army.

Nonetheless, Stalinism still had to pay lip-service to the cause of global emancipation. Fascism, on the other hand, doesn't even pay lip service. It has different goals that are both bound up with capitalism and an insidious, anti-Modern irrationalist drive to vilify those deemed a threat to the imagined community of "the Nation".

So I don't think it helps us any to conflate the two. Let's be clear that both were unmitigated disasters. But they were different kinds.