Communism and Israel
Platypus Review 28 | October 2010
This text was written collaboratively and originally published by the anti-Deutsch group, Initiative Sozialistisches Forum (Socialist Initiative Forum) as "Der Kommunismus und Israel" in the collection Furchtbare Antisemiten, ehrbare Antizionisten. Über Israel und die linksdeutsche Ideologie, Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany, 2002. Translated and reprinted with permission of the authors.
COMMUNISM, ACCORDING TO MARX, is the “riddle of history solved.” The riddle consists in the fact that, with the establishment of the capital-relation, the division of the human race into those who dominate and those being dominated, exploiters and exploited, has been exacerbated to such an extent that, caught between complete reification, on the one hand, and the transition to the “association of free individuals,” on the other, revolution seems imminent even as it recedes ever farther into the distance. Marxists of all persuasions, instead of denouncing the riddle in its tragedy, instead of submitting it to critique, persist in rationalizing it and as such are complicit in its ideological distortion.
Israel is the Schibboleth of the yet-so-close revolution, the uncomprehended shadow of its failure. It is the Menetekel that involuntarily both illustrates the minimal categorical conditions of communism while simultaneously demonstrating the beastliness of which the bourgeois national state is capable. Those who have failed to grasp the hatred against this state—embodied in anti-Zionism and antisemitism, both of which harbor a will to eliminate those who live there as well as the Jews who live in scattered cosmopolitanism around the world—have not understood the essence of antisemitism: the unconditional hatred of the idea of mankind living in free association. They fail to grasp communism as the riddle of history solved.
Israel’s existence is the bane of the Left. This is primarily because this state and this nation cannot be regarded in the terms of the anti-colonial revolutions or movements of national liberation, unless one wants to understand as such the (undoubtedly) terrorist activities of Menachem Begin’s Zionist Irgun against the British prior to Israel’s founding. Israel, the “tautological nation” as it is termed by Bahamas, magazine of the anti-German left, is an anomaly in general: It fits no scheme in the philosophy of history and expresses no recognizable political interest, whether of the bourgeoisie and their intellectual henchmen or of the Left and its theorists.
How hopeless the interest of the Enlightenment and emancipation of mankind seems nowadays! How futile, seemingly built on sand, is the possibility of a revolutionary escape, of overcoming socially-imposed and individually-hardened immaturity! Nor is this chiefly demonstrated by those whose entire business and purpose it is to immortalize the wrong society. From them, that is, from capital’s apologists, its sociologists, its beneficiaries and ideologues, one can expect nothing but what they daily proclaim as “theory” in the paper Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung [FAZ]. Take for example the 11th of March, 2002: “To believe in capitalism means finally nothing else than to believe in man.” Or in laundry detergent. This is as true as saying that belief in feudalism is, in the last instance, belief in God. It does, however, have the wicked side effect of turning the capital relation into an anthropological given. By this logic, mankind lives within capital like the ants live in their colonies: ingenuously, free from alienation, and spontaneously. And yet, even despite their apologetic interest, the FAZ is more intimately acquainted with the total negativity of existing conditions than is the Left, which purports to want to reform or revolutionize them.
Protesters in London, 2009.
The Left's invocation of concepts like “society,” “class,” and “interest” seems positively pathetic. This is evident not only if one peruses the writings of this movement, exemplified in the rags of the IZ3W, Wildcat, or, for the more hardened, Analyse und Kritik. Indeed, one need only attend closely when their icons, from Green Party founding member Jutta Ditfurth to Green Party co-chair Claudia Roth to Left Party “communist” Sarah Wagenknecht, speak about the fascism of the Nazis. Wagenknecht, for example, confidently avers that “there exists no genetic and no historical disposition that drove ‘the German nation’ necessarily and inescapably into fascism and to Auschwitz. Even behind the most ludicrous barbarism stood rational, not national, interests. After all, war and genocide were highly profitable. ‘Death by labor’ secured rates of exploitation of near 100 percent.” This left's imagination of a world beyond capitalism and fascism is, consequently, expressed in the question posed in the invitation to Germany’s 2002 Federal Coordination for Internationalism Conference (BUKO): “How do we find something better than the nation?” Posed as such, the only answer can be that something already fits the bill: the Volk. Were it otherwise, instead of the search for new identities the Left would have to speak about the abolition of nation, state, and money.
This left is no less ghastly when it raves on and on about Israel. This is true despite the fact that antisemitism’s connection to a will to abolish the bourgeois-society-cum-state of the Jews, i.e. to abolish Israel, is so manifestly evident: So-called anti-Zionism constitutes nothing less than the geopolitical reproduction of antisemitism. Anti-Zionism is the form of appearance antisemitism must assume in the world market and in world politics after Auschwitz. Anti-Zionism is antisemitism gathered up from the earliest capitalist societies and disseminated to the world at large. Thus is Israel the Jew among the nation-states, as is made clear by the United Nation’s condemnation of Zionism as a form of racism. The moral condemnation of the human cost of constituting bourgeois statehood is directed solely at Israel, which crystallizes what the world of the Volksstaaten would have us forget—that the centralization of political violence over life and death by no means constitutes the natural organization of mankind but is, rather, a definite expression of domination and exploitation. This, despite the fact that Israel is the only state in the world that can claim for itself an indubitable legitimacy, a fact that, as must be stressed again and again, renders the critique of Israel’s statehood absurd. For it is the asynchronous state, the one that came into existence as a reaction to the failure of the promise of the national bourgeois revolutions. As such, it is both a belated act of self-defense against the mass murder of European Jews and a response to the Stalinist betrayal of communist world revolution.
The well-intentioned left rejects antisemitism, yet it cannot come to terms with Israeli policies against Palestinian attempts to found a state. What makes it so difficult to spell out the critical foreign policy implications of the antisemitic will to annihilation? First, there is the Left’s ignorance regarding bourgeois statehood, and second, their pacifism inspired by revolutionary anti-militarists from Mahatma Gandhi to Auguste Blanqui. To take the case of Ariel Sharon: He is misrecognized as the return of chauvinism-gone-wild, in the style of ultra-conservatives Franz Josef Strauß or Edmund Stoiber. The pacifism behind this confusion is unwilling to deprive itself of the right to criticize, if not the Israeli state as such, then at least the policies of the Israeli government. It regresses thereby to the standpoint of a pacifism reminiscent of early Green Party partisans Petra Kelly or Thomas Ebermann, or peace movement old-timer Horst-Eberhard Richter in the early 1980s. This strand of pacifism, as the catchphrase goes, recognizes “Israel's right to existence,” but reasons that it must certainly be allowed to criticize Israel’s governmental policies. Such a view only recapitulates the social reformism to which such pacifism has always been committed. They act as if their “critique” of Israel’s policies does not sound from newspapers of all political affiliations every morning! It is the antisemitism that claims to reject all real antisemitism and that provides for the meretricious conscience that Germans reek of nowadays: “But, sir, my best friend is a Jew...”
This reformism seeks to legitimize itself by identifying itself with the Israeli peace movement and its American supporters, including figures like Uri Avnery, Norman Finkelstein, Felicia Langer, and Moshe Zuckermann. Such people mean to Israel what the reformist and anti-militarist Deutsche Friedensunion (German Peace Union) meant to the German Federal Republic of the early 1960s. The identification of this particular German pacifism with the Israeli peace movement rests naturally on the fact that no one has heard from them a single sentence about the state of capital, or, for that matter, about a materialist conception of mass destruction. Thus Zuckermann, who fancies himself in the critical theory camp, drifts into multi-culturalism despite himself when he relies on terms like “second Holocaust” to elucidate Israeli policies.
Anti-Deutsch protesters declare solidarity with Israel.
Prevailing left “analyses” of Israeli policy elide the significance of the country’s character as an asynchronous state of the Jews. Israel is a reaction to the betrayal of Enlightenment and world-revolution and an attempt of self-defense or asylum against the fascism of the Nazis. In addition, however, the common patterns of bourgeois role allocations—the monopoly on the legitimate use of force held by the bourgeois state and carried out by the people tasked with its governance—do not apply to the state of Israel, given the conditions of its formation. That “critics” of Israel’s government policies ignore such considerations is apparent, among other things, in the fact that they show empathy for the fascist mob and institutions that reward suicide bombers simply because they are a consequence of occupation and exploitation, but when it comes to Israel’s attempts to smash the military infrastructure of their enemies, these critics speak of the “extermination” or “annihilation” of the Palestinian people. Just like the stupid question of whether one should not be allowed to call those crooked speculators for what they are without being charged with antisemitism, the question pondered by leftists of whether fascism would not be possible in Israel as well because there is, after all, an Israeli bourgeois society, conceals a wrong-headed and warped misrecognition of the most politically salient characteristics of the state of Israel. It is wrong-headed because what needs explaining is precisely how Israel could be and remain a parliamentary democracy. It is warped because in Israel, between the unbearable old conditions (the threat of annihilation) and the not-yet-achieved new conditions (the society sans domination), we find exactly the epitome of what was once known and inscribed on red banners as the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” the organized political force for emancipation through revolution. Considering the founding idea of the Israeli state with respect to the question of the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” and against the backdrop of the Left's myths of the state, any judgment passed on the actions of Israel’s government must also reflect the peculiarities of Israel’s statehood.
Nobody claims that Ariel Sharon is the Lenin of Israel. What is at stake here is that Israeli statehood derives historically and structurally from Israel's essence as a force for emancipation constituted by parliament and congealed into its pouvoir de l'État. It is therefore impossible to distinguish between rule and the execution of rule in the same way as one would ask whether Social Democrat Schröder or Christian Socialist Stoiber are more suited to safeguard the common good as Chancellor of Germany. Whoever distinguishes in this way with respect to Israel not only proclaims their own lack of comprehension of the Jewish state, but also adopts at least a moderate anti-Zionism in the vein of the popular 2002 Easter Marches of the peace movement throughout the country, where activists proudly displayed Palestinian national pennants, or of the pathetic Italian anti-globalization movement Tute Bianche, that called for a boycott of Israeli goods, or, again, of the vainly militant workerist group Wildcat, which seriously believed it could submit Israel to a “class analysis.” All this nonsense represses the fact that Ariel Sharon, however unintentionally, is nevertheless closer to communism than his critics; for, like an Israeli version of Buenaventura Durruti, the only way open to Sharon as a general was to fight in the anti-fascist struggle. This is so because communism as a stateless and classless world society demands, if it is to succeed at all, something impossible: Revenge for the dead, for the victims of barbarism, even as it demands justice for the living, that everybody be treated in accordance with their own character. Only in this manner can communism be realized as envisioned in the maxim, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” From this perspective, Israel is the armed attempt to reach communism alive. Presumably this should be understood by leftists who not too long ago raved about the dictatorship of the proletariat, who threw themselves at the feet of the state capitalism of the Soviet Union, the German Democratic Republic, China, or Albania, and who trumpeted the national-völkisch liberation movements of the Third World. Today it seems as if all these bizarre identifications coalesce around the unconditional support for the Palestinian people against Israel.
After the collapse of Marxism-Leninism, there is no longer any “scientific socialism” to speak of. It has been replaced by a no longer scientific, but instinctively and intuitively practiced, capacity of the Left for occultism on a world-historical scale. It is the ontological postulation, which, as in Marxism-Leninism, allows for an unproblematic interplay of partisan misconstruction and empiricist analysis: Each slavishly affirmed fact is understood as the pure manifestation of an essence unfolding itself. Every good ideologist is therefore a bad Hegelian, who short-circuits the sense for the non-identical. Surely, every tenacious ideology consists of this tight intertwining of spontaneous, intuitive illustration mediated by a plethora of facts on the one hand, and, on the other, of the rationalization of these facts into a non-contradictory schema, consisting of anything from recycled Stalinist lines concerning Nazi-fascism to recycled phrases from Claudia Roth’s latest speech to the Green Party. Because ideology lacks coherence it is immune to critique; because it excludes individual experience it cannot possibly initiate a learning process. Since the ideologues stifle thought at the root, they end up substituting for it with calculations of interest. Freud’s psychoanalysis attempted to grasp this aspect of ideology in its deliberate paradox of the “unconscious conscious.” Marx, in his critique of fetishism, was after the same aspect of ideology with his analysis and exposure of the relationship of commodity form and form of thought.
This “unconscious conscious” may be imagined as a sleep-walker, who navigates a way towards his goal after making every possible misstep. In Europe, however, the unconscious conscious is thoroughly antisemitic. Everybody, whether Catholics or feudalists, absolutist monarchs or bourgeois revolutionaries, party communists or Nazi fascists, whether fully aware, in a trance, or in a manic rage, contribute their mite to this thoughtless thinking, which is gaining merciless force.
In contrast to this, the Zionist philosophy of history is of an entirely different make, and here the historically particular role of Zionism shows: History, in this case, is not coming into its own as the realization of an inner essence, but as the historical relation between past and future catastrophe. The Zionists act as if they had committed themselves to the historical realization of Walter Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” In this negative philosophy of history, historical materialism is related to Zionism, even while it refuses, in spite of the facts, to make the Zionist thesis of the “eternal antisemitism” its own.
Graffiti on a section of the Israeli West Bank barrier.
The hatred for Zionism has manifold reasons—that is, excuses. It might be interesting to list them, but it is not salient here. This is not about what cruelties and terror happen when the Israeli army penetrates the territories of the Palestinian National Authority, however depressing those cruelties may be. Such are the facts of war, which nobody ever claimed would be an Amnesty International campaign. What is at stake here is the relationship of the facts of the tears, blood, and death, to their interpretation. No reasonable human being, upon seeing the indubitable suffering of the population of Dresden in the wake the bombings at the hands of the Royal Airforce, would conclude that Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris's practical anti-fascism constituted a historical injustice. Similarly, it is not simply a question of what cruelties Syrian, Iraqi, or Iranian dictatorships commit against their own populations, or what these might mean as regards their military strategies towards Israel. Nor is this about the “fanatical” settlers. Rather, it is a question of the historical legitimacy and philosophical dignity of Zionism as the Israeli national ideology, which motivates the statehood of the bourgeois society of the Jews after Auschwitz. In this respect Ariel Sharon understood more of the Enlightenment and the ramifications of post-1933 negative dialectics than do the querulous advocates of the human rights of the “Palestinian people,” a phrase which comes to mean whatever it must in order to satisfy the commands of their very own projections. Jewish nationalism is the egotism of a people that can no longer trust in the invisible hand to translate egotism into common good. That the militant Enlightenment today takes the form of Ariel Sharon and the tanks of the Israeli Army, that this is now its only historically possible form, baffles and angers those who only retain what Bloch, with reference to Lessing, called “the shams of Enlightenment” (Aufkläricht). It is sufficient for them to struggle for a disastrous “right to self-determination of the peoples,” whether proletarian-socialist à la Lenin, bourgeois-democratic à la Wilson, or völkisch-Nazi-fascist à la Hitler. While the Jews might very well be a “Volk,” Israel is at least a society.
No Nazi-fascist was ever truly convinced that he derived legitimacy for his demands from the Teutoburger Forest, just as none of his democratic heirs ever really thought their legitimacy derived from the “lessons of history.” Similarly, no socialist was ever convinced that it was the famous “liberation of labor,” and not simply the right to the spoils, that motivated their politics in the interest of the working-class. And in no way do Palestinians gain any right from the fact that they were the first in Palestine. To a society to which hunger is no reason for production, suffering cannot be sufficient grounds for solidarity. Whether one speaks of Charitas, Amnesty International, or the Friends of the Palestinian People, with regard to the Israel-hatred of the antisemites and the Islamo-fascists of this Völk, it is ideology that agitates in the name of the immediacy of suffering. It is ideology that strives to make sense of evidence it cannot bring itself to question. The Zionist and practical anti-fascist Ariel Sharon has come closer to solving the riddle of history than the German left, whose supposed anti-fascism exhausts itself either as the “rebellion of the decent,” à la ex-chancellor Gerhard Schröder, or as solidarity with the Palestinian people. |P
Translated by Tony Smith
. Translator’s note: Literally, the German word for “people.” However, in the context of the 19th and 20th centuries, for Völkisch movements the term has denoted a fantastic dissolution of social contradictions into a national, organic, whole. For a critique of Völkisch nationalism, see for example Jerzy Sobotta, “Rosa Luxemburg’s Corpse: The Stench of Decay on the German Left, 1932–2009,” Platypus Review 16 (October 2009),