Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 29, 2011

The Gilad Atzmon controversy

Filed under: anti-Semitism,Jewish question — louisproyect @ 7:12 pm

Gilad Atzmon

Gilad Atzmon is a jazz musician who has generated controversy over his articles on Zionism similar to those generated by Israel Shamir who I wrote about in July. While both men are of Jewish origin, they have been accused of anti-Semitism and holocaust denial. Many of the same charges have been made against Norman Finkelstein but in the case of Shamir and Atzmon there is much more substance.

Atzmon has prompted some heated reactions once again coinciding with the release of his new book “The Wandering Who?: A study of Jewish identity politics”, both in mainstream and radical circles.

I first got wind of the controversy from a blog post by Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic Monthly titled “John Mearsheimer Endorses a Hitler Apologist and Holocaust Revisionist“. Along with Martin Peretz and Alan Dershowitz, Goldberg is one of America’s top apologists for the state of Israel. He was also a supporter of the war in Iraq, using his outpost at the New Yorker magazine to circulate pro-war propaganda very similar to Judith Miller’s. Goldberg writes:

Atzmon is quite obviously a twisted and toxic hater. His antisemitism is so blatant that activists of the so-called BDS movement (boycott, divestment and sanctions), which seeks the elimination of Israel, refuse to have anything to do with him. But Atzmon still has at least one friend among anti-Israel activists: The R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, and co-author of “The Israel Lobby,” John J. Mearsheimer.

Mearsheimer had blurbed Atzmon’s book, much to Goldberg’s anger:

Gilad Atzmon has written a fascinating and provocative book on Jewish identity in the modern world. He shows how assimilation and liberalism are making it incredibly difficult for Jews in the Diaspora to maintain a powerful sense of their ‘Jewishness.’ Panicked Jewish leaders, he argues, have turned to Zionism (blind loyalty to Israel) and scaremongering (the threat of another Holocaust) to keep the tribe united and distinct from the surrounding goyim. As Atzmon’s own case demonstrates, this strategy is not working and is causing many Jews great anguish. The Wandering Who? Should be widely read by Jews and non-Jews alike.’

Mearsheimer responded to Goldberg on Stephen Walt’s blog. As anybody who has been following the culture wars over the state of Israel will know, Mearsheimer and Walt, two highly accomplished academics, were accused of anti-Semitism for putting forward the proposition that there was an Israeli lobby and—what’s more—stating that it undermined American interests. Although I disagreed with their analysis, I did defend them against the anti-Semitism canard.  Mearsheimer wrote in self-defense against Goldberg, who has been hounding ever since the initial Mearsheimer-Walt salvo against Israel appeared:

The book, as my blurb makes clear, is an extended meditation on Jewish identity in the Diaspora and how it relates to the Holocaust, Israel, and Zionism. There is no question that the book is provocative, both in terms of its central argument and the overly hot language that Atzmon sometimes uses. But it is also filled with interesting insights that make the reader think long and hard about an important subject. Of course, I do not agree with everything that he says in the book — what blurber does? — but I found it thought provoking and likely to be of considerable interest to Jews and non-Jews, which is what I said in my brief comment.

Turning from the mainstream to the radical movement, an open letter appeared on Lenin’s Tomb from authors who had been published by Zero Books, the imprint associated with Atzmon’s new book. They complained:

Atzmon’s assertions are underpinned by a further claim, which is that antisemitism doesn’t exist, and hasn’t existed since 1948. There is only “political reaction” to “Jewish power”, sometimes legitimate, sometimes not. For example, the smashing up of Jewish graves may be “in no way legitimate”, but nor are they “’irrational’ hate crimes”. They are solely “political responses”.[5] Given this, it would be impossible for anything that Atzmon writes, or for anyone he associates with, to be anti-Semitic. This shows, not only in his writing, but in his political alliances. He sees nothing problematic, for example, in his championing of the white supremacist ‘Israel Shamir’ (“the sharpest critical voice of ‘Jewish power’ and Zionist ideology”[6]), whose writings reproduce the most vicious anti-Semitic myths including the ‘blood libel’, and for whom even the BNP are insufficiently racist.[7]

The thrust of Atzmon’s work is to normalise and legitimise anti-Semitism. We do not believe that Zero’s decision to publish this book is malicious. Atzmon’s ability to solicit endorsements from respectable figures such as Richard Falk and John Mearsheimer shows that he is adept at muddying the waters both on his own views and on the question of anti-Semitism. But at a time when dangerous forces are attempting to racialise political antagonisms, we think the decision is grossly mistaken. We call on Zero to distance itself from Atzmon’s views which, we know, are not representative of the publisher or its critical engagement with contemporary culture.

Along the same lines, Andy Newman, who runs the Socialist Unity blog used the Guardian’s Comments are Free to attack Atzmon:

Gilad Atzmon is a world renowned jazz musician, and a former soldier in the Israeli army, so his advocacy of the Palestinian cause is guaranteed to draw attention. Indeed, a small leftwing publisher, Zero Books, has commissioned Atzmon to write a book on the Jews as part of an otherwise entirely credible series by respected left figures such as Richard Seymour, Nina Power and Laurie Penny.

The trouble is that Atzmon has often argued that the Zionist oppression of the Palestinians is attributable not to the bellicose politics of the Israeli state, but to Jewish lobbies and Jewish power. Atzmon’s antisemitic writings include, for example, a 2009 article – Tribal Marxism for Dummies – in which he explains that while “Marxism is a universal paradigm, its Jewish version is very different. It is there to mould Marxist dialectic into a Jewish subservient precept”. Atzmon argues that it is merely a “Judeo-centric pseudo intellectual setting which aims at political power” and that “Jewish Marxism is there to … stop scrutiny of Jewish power and Jewish lobbying”.

Newman’s piece provoked a rebuttal from Jonathan Cook on Counterpunch titled “The Dangerous Cult of the Guardian”  that defended Atzmon as well as Edward Herman and David Peterson. Like Atzmon, these two have come under attack there as “holocaust deniers” on Bosnia and Rwanda from George Monbiot. Cook also took up David Leigh’s attack on Julian Assange, a recycling of the usual canards. Cook had this to say about Newman’s piece on Atzmon:

A typical example of the Guardian’s new strategy was on show this week in an article in the print edition’s comment pages – also available online and a far more prestigious platform than CiF – in which the paper commissioned a socialist writer, Andy Newman, to argue that the Israeli Jewish musician Gilad Atzmon was part of an anti-semitic trend discernible on the left.

Jonathan Freedland, the paper’s star columnist and resident obsessive on anti-semitism, tweeted to his followers that the article was “important” because it was “urging the left to confront antisemitism in its ranks”.

I have no idea whether Atzmon has expressed anti-semitic views – and I am none the wiser after reading Newman’s piece.

Cook says that he has no idea whether Atzmon has expressed anti-Semitic views. This might be a function of a failure to click the link in Newman’s article that would have brought him to the singularly stupid article titled “Tribal Marxism for Dummies. In it you can find howlingly uninformed opinions such as:

Jewish Marxism is very different from Marxism or socialism in general. While Marxism is a universal paradigm, its Jewish version is very different. It is there to mould Marxist dialectic into a Jewish subservient precept. Jewish Marxism is basically a crude utilisation of ‘Marxist-like’ terminology for the sole purpose of the Jewish tribal cause. It is a Judeo-centric pseudo intellectual setting which aims at political power.

Palestinian thinkers were probably the first to realise that the situation in Gaza, Nablus and the refugee camps had little in common with 19th century Europe. This was enough to defy Marxism as a sole analytical political tool. However, the Jewish Marxists had a far more adventurous plan for Palestinians, Arab people and the region in general. They wanted Arabs to become cosmopolitan atheists. They suggested that Arabs should drop ‘reactionary Islam’ and liberate themselves as ‘the Jews did’ a century ago.

When I read junk like this, I really have to wonder how Atzmon ever got an invitation to speak at an SWP conference in Britain. Fortunately the comrades figured out that they were dealing with a first-class imbecile. Apparently Counterpunch’s standards are a bit lower as they continue to publish both Shamir and Atzmon as the spirit moves them.

I would repeat what I wrote about Shamir last July since it is equally applicable to Atzmon. While I would not give him a platform in either print or electronic format, I don’t think he represents a looming danger for Jews. The only damage that his articles pose are to logic, good sense, and political clarity.

…let me differentiate myself a bit from Žižek on the question of “threats” to the Jews. While I agree that the Arabs are not the Nazis of today, I am less inclined than he is to fret about anti-Semitism as a serious looming “existential” menace to the Jews. Perhaps his lack of interest in social and economic history (i.e., historical materialism) explains his dwelling over “superstructure” but there is a world of difference between traditional anti-Semitism and the speech or writings of a Hamas leader or Ahmadinejad. The persecution of the Jews in Czarist Russia and Nazi Germany was intimately linked to the terminal decay of capitalism that could only resolved through war and the use of scapegoats.

We are decidedly moving into a deadly constellation of events that might precipitate new outbreaks of pogroms and even extermination but the targets will not be the Jews who are not easily identifiable through their isolation in ghettos or their economic role as pawnbrokers, shopkeepers, etc. Instead, it will be the Roma, the undocumented worker from Northern Africa, the Mexican, or the Arab.

The left has to be vigilant against any form of racialist stupidity, whether it comes from a disturbed individual lacking a social base like Israel Shamir or someone like Ahmadinejad who lacked the common sense to not invite David Duke to a symposium on the holocaust in Tehran. We do so primarily because their words weaken our movement by leaving it open to the charge of racism. This is especially a problem given the ability of the mass media to control the discourse and make the criminal into the victim and the victim into the criminal, as Malcolm X once put it.

I will conclude with one of a series of articles I wrote on the Goldhagen thesis  before I began blogging. It deals with real anti-Semitism as opposed to the knuckle-dragging stupidity of an Israel Shamir or a Gilad Atzmon that is a threat to nobody. It puts the persecution of the Jews into a historical context that is unfortunately lacking in the well-meaning and often very intelligent articles on Atzmon from his critics on the left.

Abram Leon wrote “The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation” in 1941 when he was all of 24 years old and at a time when his hands were filled leading the Belgian Trotskyist movement under conditions of fascist repression. Eventually, the Gestapo captured him and sent him to Auschwitz. He did not make it out alive.

Leon’s first involvement with radical politics was with the Hashomir Hatzoir, a Zionist-socialist youth group. He grew disenchanted with Zionism and became a Trotskyist at the time of the Moscow trials. This showed a certain independent streak since the Hashomir-ites were pro-Stalin, as well as being Zionist.

While Leon devoted himself to the Trotskyist movement from this point on, he never lost interest in the “Jewish Question.” He was anxious to answer the claims of the Zionists, as well as explain the virulent anti-Semitism that had swept Germany. What was the explanation for the failure of the Jews to assimilate? Why had this peculiar combination of race, nationality and religious denomination persisted through the ages? What was the nature of the hatred against the outsider Jew?

Leon took his cue from Karl Marx who wrote in ” On the Jewish Question”, “We will not look for the secret of the Jew in his religion, but we will look for the secret of the religion in the real Jew.” This led Leon to examine the socio-economic relations that might explain both the identity of the Jews and, by the same token, their persecution.

He believed that the key to understanding the Jewish question was their status as a “people-class.” The Jews, according to Leon, “constitute historically a social group with a specific economic function. They are a class, or more precisely a people-class.” That economic function is tradesman. The Jew, from the days of the Babylonian exile, have functioned as tradesmen. Their location in the Mid-East facilitated commercial exchanges between Europe and Asia. As long as the Jew served in this economic capacity, the religious and national identity served to support his economic function.

Leon was strongly influenced in his views by Karl Kautsky, a leader of the Second International, who theorized the identity of a class with a people in pre-capitalist societies: “Different classes may assume the character of different races. On the other hand, the meeting of many races, each developing an occupation of its own, may lead to their taking up various callings or social positions within the same community: race becomes class.” The chief difference between Kautsky and Leon is that Leon made the equation between class and people specific. Where Kautsky saw tendencies, Leon saw a dialectical unity.

The period that lasted from classical antiquity to the Carolingian epoch was a time of prosperity and relative well-being for the Jews. In the Hellenistic era, Jews were part of the commercial elite in cities such as Alexandria, Antioch and Seleucia. The rise of the Roman Empire saw their continued success, as cities such as Alexandria continued to function as trading centers between the West and East. The role of Jews at Alexandria was so important that a Jew, Tiberius Julius Alexander, was appointed Roman governor of the city.

It is important to note that what united the Jews in this period was not wealth and power per se, but their economic role as tradesmen. Within the group were poorer peddlers and artisans. In the decline of the Roman Empire, many of these individuals were hardest hit. Their desperation, argues both Kautsky and Leon, explains the emergence of the Christianity cult which expressed class hatred of the rich in theological terms.

With the advent of the middle ages, the economic role of the Jew shifts somewhat. This is the period when the native merchant class begins to sell commodities produced in artisan workshops, the embryonic form of the factory. The trade that the Jew engaged in prior to this period was separate from production, but the Christian tradesman is part of the network of commodity exchange. Leon notes that “The evolution in exchange of medieval economy proved fatal to the position of the Jews in trade. The Jewish merchant importing spices into Europe and exporting slaves, is displaced by respectable Christian traders to whom urban industry supplies the principal products for their trading. This native commercial class collides violently with the Jews, occupants of an outmoded economic position, inherited from a previous period in historical evolution.”

These circumstances force the Jew to make his living as a usurer. He lends money to the feudal lords and the kings to finance their war expenditures and their luxuries. One of the main ways this is done is through “tax farming.” The King “farms out” the collection of tax revenues to a “Court Jew”, who gets a percentage of the take. My family name “Proyect” means the “counting house of a tax farmer.”

This primitive form of banking eventually clashes with banking based on the production of exchange values, which has been emerging during the same period as that of the artisan workshops and early factories. The usurer is hated not only by the lord to whom he charges high interest, but by the peasants who confront the Jew in his capacity as tax collector. The hatred builds to a fever pitch in places like London, Lincoln and Stafford, England in 1189 when massacres of Jews take place. Shakespeare’s “Shylock” reflects the lingering animosity toward the Jew long after these historical events took place and the Jew had been driven out of England. The most infamous campaign against the Jew took place in Spain during the Inquisition, when they were burned at the stake. The true motive was economic rivalry, according to Leon.

The Jews take flight to Eastern Europe and Poland in particular, where feudalism continues long after the emergence of capitalism in the West. An 1810 travel diary notes the following: “Poland should in all justice be called a Jewish kingdom… The cities and towns are primarily inhabited by them. Rarely will you find a village without Jews. Jewish taverns mark out all the main roads… Apart from some are manors which are administered by the lords themselves, all the others are farmed out or pledged to the Jews. They possess enormous capitals and no one can get along without their help. Only some very few very rich lords are not plunged up to their neck in debt with the Jews.”

In the late nineteenth century, capitalist property relations begin to develop in the Polish and Russian countryside. Lenin writes about this development in order to refute the Narodniks who held out the possibility of a village-based socialism. The transformation of Christian peasants into landless and debt-ridden laborers has dire consequences for the Jew who is not integrated into the new forms of capitalist property relations. They continue to act as intermediary between the peasant and plebeian masses in the countryside on one hand and the wastrel nobility in the big city on the other. As tensions arise, the first pogroms take place.

Also, at this time, the Jews begin to undergo class differentiation under the general impact of capitalism. A Jewish proletariat develops, which works in small artisan shops producing clothing and household utensils. This deeply oppressed social grouping is the target of pogroms, which indiscriminately attack rich and poor Jew alike. The deep insecurities of this period give rise to the Chassidic sects which function in much the same way that Christianity functions in the Roman Empire. It gives solace to a deeply insecure and economically miserable people.

Eventually the economic suffering takes its toll and mass migrations back to the West take place, both to Austria and Germany, and across the Atlantic to the United States. The ancestors of most Jews living in the United States arrived in this period.

Nobody could have predicted at the turn of the century the awful consequences of the exodus into Germany. Notwithstanding the vile utterances of Richard Wagner, Germany had a well-deserved reputation for tolerance. The German Jews, as opposed to their recently arrived Yiddish speaking brethren from the East, spoke German and were assimilationist to the core. Some of the Jewish elites tended to argue for acceptance of the new Hitlerite regime on its own terms, which they viewed as simply another species of ultra-nationalism.

For Leon, the rabid anti-Semitism of the post-WWI period fell into the same category as the age-old forms. It was virulent economic rivalry that grew out of the collapse of the German economy:

“The economic catastrophe of 1929 threw the petty-bourgeois masses into a hopeless situation. The overcrowding in small business, artisanry and the intellectual professions took on unheard of proportions. The petty-bourgeois regard his Jewish competitor with growing hostility, for the latter’s professional cleverness, the results of centuries of practice, often enabled him to survive ‘hard times’ more easily. Anti-Semitism even gained the ear of wide layers of worker-artisans, who traditionally had been under petty-bourgeois influences.”

When a Trotskyist veteran first presented this theory to me in 1967, it had powerful explanatory aspects. The true cause of anti-Semitism was the capitalist system, not some latent and free-floating animus toward the Jew. The key to the survival of the Jewish people was not the Zionist state of Israel, but the abolition of the capitalist system.

Recent controversy over the Goldhagen thesis, which tries to explain anti-Semitism in metaphysical terms, has forced me to rethink Leon’s nominally Marxist interpretation. We must revisit the question of the explanatory power of Leon’s thesis in light of the exterminationist policy of the Hitler regime. It is very likely that Leon himself had not been aware of the pending genocide, which did not take shape until 1943 at the Wansee Conference. Leon was trying to explain an anti-Semitism that was in many ways no more vicious than the anti-Black racism of the American south. The Nuremburg racial laws of 1935 stripped Jews of their German citizenry and made intermarriage illegal. This was deplorable, but after all Blacks could not vote or marry whites in the Deep South in 1935 either.

Another weakness of Leon’s work is that he de-emphasizes the people side of the people-class equation. Most of his work is devoted to an examination of the Jew’s relationship to the means of production, but very little to their religion, language, culture and values. This is one of the criticisms found in the chapter on Leon in Enzo Traverso’s “The Marxists and the Jewish Question: The History of a Debate 1843-1943”. The importance of this was driven home to me last night while I watched a 90 minute documentary on Jewish liturgical music on PBS. There is an immense variety of influences on Cantorial chanting. The Falashas of Ethiopia echo African harmonies, while the Turkish Jews employ the oud and tamboura, typical instruments of the region. In all cases, the prayers are nearly identical. The narrator of the documentary asks one Cantor for his explanation of the unity of the Jews over a 3500 year period, when other nationalities have disappeared from the face of the earth. His answer: the geographical dispersion of the Jews is the answer. If the Jews had remained tied to the same territory, they would have gone the way of the Babylonians, Romans, Greeks, etc. This certainly makes wonder if an ironic twist lies in store for the state of Israel.

It could be argued that this deficiency in Leon has a lot to do with the exigencies of trying to write about the social and economic factors when so many others had covered the cultural aspects. It is more likely, as Traverso points out most tellingly, that the reason for this lack has to do with Leon’s intellectual dependence on Kautsky.

Kautsky’s Marxism was deeply problematic. It comes close to economic determinism. The Second International tended to follow a simplistic base-superstructure model of Marxism. At its worst, it allowed social democrats to side with the bourgeoisie against the Russian Revolution. Since the base of the Russian economy was not fully mature in a capitalist sense, the Bolshevik seizure of power was premature, adventuristic and would lead to dictatorship.

The same methodological error appears in Leon. He tries to explain German anti-Semitism almost exclusively in economic terms. The problem, however, is that this explanation tends to break down when the Nazi regime institutes the death camps. After all, there is no plausible economic explanation for such behavior. It can only be called madness.

In 1933, ten years before the death camps, Leon Trotsky wrote “What is National Socialism.” This article does an excellent job of diagnosing the madness of the Nazi movement which had just taken power:

“Fascism has opened up the depths of society for politics. Today, not only in peasant homes but also in city skyscrapers, there lives alongside of the twentieth century the tenth of the thirteenth. A hundred million people use electricity and still believe in the magic power of signs and exorcisms. The Pope of Rome broadcasts over the radio about the miraculous transformation of water into wine. Movie stars go to mediums. Aviators who pilot miraculous mechanisms created by man’s genius wear amulets on their sweaters. What inexhaustible reserves they possess of darkness, ignorance, and savagery! Despair has raised them to their feet, fascism has given them a banner. Everything that should have been eliminated from the national organism in the form of cultural excrement in the course of the normal development of society has now come gushing out from the throat; capitalist society is puking up the undigested barbarism. Such is the psychology of National Socialism.”

Nazism as undigested barbarism seems much closer to the mark than the base-superstructure model. Trotsky goes even further than this. In 1938, a midway point between date of the preceding article, and the death camps, Trotsky predicts the impending genocide. In December of that year, in an appeal to American Jews, he writes: “It is possible to imagine without difficulty what awaits the Jews at the mere outbreak of the future world war. But even without war the next development of world reaction signifies with certainty the physical extermination of the Jews.”

These remarks are cited in the first paragraph of Norman Geras’s “Marxists before the Holocaust”, an article which appears in the special July/August 1997 issue of New Left Review on the holocaust. This issue features a lengthy critique by Norman Finkelstein on Goldhagen. While Finkelstein’s rather devastating attack on the scholarship and implicitly pro-Zionist ideas of Goldhagen have achieved a high profile, Geras’s article is worthy of discussion as well, since it occupies a space much closer to Goldhagen’s than to Marxism.

Geras argues that Marxism can not explain the holocaust. His attack is not directed at Leon’s economic determinism. Rather it is directed at Trotsky and Ernest Mandel who try to explain the holocaust as an expression of capitalism in its most degenerate and irrational phase. Geras says that the murder of the Jews is radically different than the bombing of Hiroshima, the war in Indochina and other acts of imperialist barbarism cited by Mandel in an effort to put the genocide in some kind of context. The difference between the death camps and the slaughter of the Vietnamese people is one of quantity, not quality. This outrages Geras, who says that Mandel and the German “revisionist” historian Ernst Nolte should be paired.

“What follows should only be said bluntly. Within this apologia there is a standpoint bearing a formal resemblance to something I have criticized in Mandel. I mean the energetic contextualization of Nazi crimes by Nolte, even while briefly conceding their singular and unprecedented character: his insistence that they belong to the same history of modern times as the American war in Vietnam, the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, the exodus from Vietnam of the boat people–a ‘holocaust on the water’–the Cambodian genocide, the repression following on the Iranian revolution, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and, above all, the liquidation of the kulaks, and the Gulag. Against that backdrop, Nolte urged that the Third Reich ‘should be removed from the isolation in which it still finds itself.’ This is what came, in the debate in question, to be called ‘relativization’ of the Holocaust; and it is what Mandel himself calls it in taking issue with Nolte’s views. Mandel continues even now to assert that the Holocaust was an extreme product of tendencies which are historically more general. But he perceives a need, evidently, to balance the assertion with a greater emphasis on the singularity of the Jews.”

Geras says that he will try at some point to offer his own analysis of why the Jews were exterminated. Since I am not familiar with his work, I hesitate to predict what shape it will take. I suspect that there will be liberal appropriation of the type of idealist obfuscation contained in Goldhagen. That would be unfortunate. What is needed to understand Nazism is not essentialist readings of German history, but a more acute historical materialist understanding of these tragic events.

When I was in grade school in the 1950s in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York, there were large numbers of Jews who spent their summers there and shopped in my father’s fruit store. I remember seeing the tattoos of numbers on many of their forearms and asked my father what they represented. It was very unusual for a Jew to be tattooed because orthodox rituals stipulated that you must be buried with the same outward appearance you were born with. He explained to me that these Jews had been in concentration camps and murdered by the millions. The shoppers with tattoos were “survivors.” I did not understand this. What was their crime to be punished so?

In the 1950s, a time of deep material abundance and spiritual poverty, there was something else that I could not understand. We had to practice nuclear air-raid drills in our school. We had to “duck and cover” in the basement of the building. This would protect us from a H-bomb. This seemed crazy to me. If the United States and the USSR had an all-out nuclear war, wouldn’t everybody die? A blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter wrote “The Boy With Green Hair” in these years to dramatize what I and every other 7 year old was thinking.

Why would anybody consider the possibility and prepare for nuclear war, which would be a new Holocaust of even greater dimensions than the Nazi murder of the Jews. This Holocaust would kill everybody on the planet and all living things. Measured by the ordinary laws and values of capitalist society, this made no sense at all.

No, it did not make any sense whatsoever, but the Pentagon was planning on just such scenarios. Not only was it escalating the arms race, it engaged in nuclear brinksmanship over and over again. Nixon argued for an A-bomb attack on the Viet Mihn forces at Dien Bhien-Phu in 1954. Kennedy brought the world to the brink of war in his confrontation over Cuban missiles. While nuclear war did not occur, the chances were not so remote as to be beyond comprehension.

The American government was not run by madmen, who were representative of “undigested barbarism.” Oliver Stone, the film-maker who is supposedly highly sensitive to madmen, has made films which attempt to burnish the reputation of Nixon and JFK alike. “Our” capitalist politicians would never blow up the world, would they? Well, yes they probably wouldn’t.

But try to imagine a United States in steep economic decline, mired in imperialist war on three continents. Instead of Bill Clinton in the White House, imagine Pat Buchanan or David Duke instead. He is advised by Christian fundamentalists in the Cabinet who believe that we are in the “final days” before Armageddon. If the reward of Christian soldiers is life eternal at the right hand of Jesus Christ, perhaps all-out nuclear war against Communist or Muslim infidels “makes sense.”

The point is that capitalism has a deeply irrational streak. The system is prone to wars and economic crisis. It should have been abolished immediately after World War One. The only reason that is wasn’t is that the revolutionary movement came under the control of Stalin, who time and time again showed that he did not understand how to defeat capitalist reaction. The success of Hitler is directly attributable to the failure of the German Communist Party to fight him effectively.

Unless the socialist movement finds a way to put an end to capitalism and disarm the war-makers, the survival of the planet remains in question. While we can not “explain” the genocide adequately no matter how sharp our theoretical weapons, one thing is for sure. We have a sufficient explanation for the need to abolish capitalism: it is an inherently irrational system which threatens the human race.


  1. All I can say is wow Louis. Your’s is the best analysis of this question I can remember reading. So many informative points.
    For example, I had never heard of Abram Leon, but I’m so glad that you brought him into this discussion. His ideas are very deserving of having the light of day shine on them again.

    Comment by haensgen — September 30, 2011 @ 5:12 am

  2. The article you recycle is great. But putting it as if that sums up the issue is disappointing. (although, if you adapt the quote from Trotsky to the internet age, you’d get something that could be an interesting and relevant observation.)

    Atzmon and Shamir are not isolated fools. They are right-wing white nationalist ideologues who use support for Palestinian rights coupled with antisemitism as a tool of attack on the radical left and building a xenophobic, populist and rabid right wing swell out of the downward class mobility created by neoliberalism. In the process, they also have the potential to really damage organizing for Palestinian solidarity. The fact that you can see that Atzmon is an imbecile, and that the SWP got it after a short while, doesn’t mean that it is obvious. It is obvious if you have a certain schooling. But otherwise it is not obvious at all. Of course the mainstream hysteria that letting Atzmon loose is one step from opening the crematoria is self-serving and dismissable. But to say that right-wing ideological production is nothing to worry about because it is stupid, well, I am not an expert in socialist historiography, but I think Kautsky made that mistake already.

    Comment by Evildoer — September 30, 2011 @ 9:21 am

  3. Many of the same charges have been made against Norman Finkelstein but in the case of Shamir and Atzmon there is much more substance.
    Are you saying there is any substance in the charges against Finkelstein?

    More importantly, on Leon:
    Most of his work is devoted to an examination of the Jew’s relationship to the means of production, but very little to their religion, language, culture and values.
    I don’t see how any of this is relevant. Racism may be a rational strategy for the ruling class, but there is no reason to consider whether any of its claims have any basis in reality:surely that way lies madness? If Nazism is undigested barbarism, that does not prevent it having been a functional ideology for the German ruling class, or indeed one that persisted even after it led to the most horrific consequences and might be argued no longer served the interests of German capital. Thus the interaction between base and superstructure, rather than the latter being a simple reflection of the former.

    Given the lack of sophistication of Geras’ attacks on the left generally, and anti-zionists in particular, I wouldn’t expect that he’s come up with any particular clarity on this issue.

    Comment by skidmarx — September 30, 2011 @ 9:38 am

  4. From the evidence presented on Socialist Unity Atzmon is no anti-semite. Anti-semitism is a racist movement that utilises pogrommic violence and seeks the genocidal deustruction of Jews and Arabs. He is a critic of the Jewish religion and belief system who believes that the roots of Zionism are to be found in its tenets. Certainly there could be no Zionism without Judaism just as there could be no Islamism without Islam or Christian Fundamentalism without Christianity. I would prefer to see us concentrate on these things as sectarian political movements that have latched on to a religion for self-serving ends but as Marx said the criticism of religion is the beginning of all criticism. Atzmon is not racist. He is however it seems passionately anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian if not the subtlest of politicians. I should think he is fully aware that true anti-semites would not spare him should they ever gain power again just because he is a critic of the Judaism he grew up with.

    The real reason why this row has blown up now is because Fatah is making a concerted effort to get their Bantustan recognised by the UN so they wish to characterise all those who do not support the bogus two-state peace process and the abandonment of the refugees as anti-semites so that their critics can be pushed out of the Palestinian Solidarity movement. This is a purge of political opponents and nothing to do with the infiltration of the movement by the far right or left anti-semitism. Newman on his blog has invited Zionists from far and wide to help with the purge. He has unleashed something truly unpleasant. Already a big witch hunt is building against the SWP and the more they capitulate to Newman’s little policing operation the worse it gets for them. Ironic really as I’m not sure but I think they support two states.

    Comment by Jon H — September 30, 2011 @ 10:33 am

  5. Jon H, almost everything you have said here is wrong. I mean everything. Atzmon has nothing against Judaism and he was not raised by reference to Judaism. He comes from a secular Israeli zionist background. His beef, according to himself, is with what he calls Jewishness, which he distinguishes from Judaism. You began badly. You ended equally badly, the SWP in the UK does not support two states, it never has done.

    I think the post here. together with evildoer’s comment, is very good but I think Louis understates the problems with Counterpunch. It doesn’t simply post cranks and racists, it refuses rights of reply or response particularly where matters of principle are concerned. It still publishes good articles but it is becoming (if it hasn’t already become) a bit of a curate’s egg.

    Comment by levi9909 — September 30, 2011 @ 1:18 pm

  6. `Jewish Marxism is very different from Marxism or socialism in general. While Marxism is a universal paradigm, its Jewish version is very different. It is there to mould Marxist dialectic into a Jewish subservient precept. Jewish Marxism is basically a crude utilisation of ‘Marxist-like’ terminology for the sole purpose of the Jewish tribal cause. It is a Judeo-centric pseudo intellectual setting which aims at political power.’

    Do you really think this is `ill-informed’ nonsens as you put it Louis. I would have thought that the idea that there could be a Jewish Marxism that wasn’t either an invention of the fevered brains of the Nazis or as a self-serving tool for left Zionists isn’t that controversial for real Marxists. I’m pretty sure you would instantly reject somebody calling you a Jewish Marxist out of hand as either motivated by anti-semitism or by an effort to marginalise you as not a real marxist. As for `ill-informed’ he has seen left zionists utilise so-called Jewish Marxism first hand in their efforts to rationalise Israeli apartheid and genocide.

    Comment by Jon H — September 30, 2011 @ 2:18 pm

  7. Jon H.: Do you really think this is `ill-informed’ nonsens as you put it Louis.

    LP: Yes.

    Jon H: As for `ill-informed’ he has seen left zionists utilise so-called Jewish Marxism first hand in their efforts to rationalise Israeli apartheid and genocide.

    LP: Is this a reference to Machover? If so, it is an obvious and filthy slander. And beyond that, Atzmon’s language is really from the gutter: “It may also be important to make sure that every Muslim on this planet grasps that an Elder Jew Marxist from London is convinced that they should throw away their Qur’an.” Clearly, Atzmon still has some of the swagger that he learned in the IDF. “Elder Jew Marxist” is not the language of an intelligent and critical thinker. It is what I would expect to hear from a drunken lout.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 30, 2011 @ 2:31 pm

  8. No it isn’t a reference to Machover. I think Machover is a single-stater isn’t he?

    Comment by Jon H — September 30, 2011 @ 3:37 pm

  9. Just watched Machover’s very interesting talk on Communist University 2011 and whilst I don’t entirely agree with everything he said I certainly wouldn’t say that this is a Jewish Zionist trying to utilize Marxist phraseology or verbiage to justify Zionism. Definitely a Marxist trying to get to grips with the situation and making a damn good fist of it (though I’d like to read more) but then I also do not agree that Atzmon is an anti-semite merely a critic of Judaism. Machover points out the divisive role of Islam not just in relation to the other but also each other so I don’t see why Judaism should be let off the hook. As for Atzmon’s style, no doubt he has come up against some pretty abrasive Zionists in his time who would not think twice about exterminating the entire Palestinian populations of Gaza and the West Bank much less of branding him an anti-semite to cover their own arses. It’s enough to make anybody a bit tetchy, acerbic and hyperbolic. I forgive him but would counsel a more proprietorial approach.

    Comment by David Ellis — September 30, 2011 @ 9:59 pm

  10. As you can see, Louis, your ability to spot an imbecile is a rarer quality than you admit, even among people who describe themselves as marxists.

    Comment by Evildoer — October 1, 2011 @ 12:42 am

  11. I’d say those most guilty of delivering Marxist cover for zionism are the likes of the British AWL’s Sean Matgamna and Jim Denham. Denham is suspiciously swivel-eyed for a non-Jew in his support for Zionism and the notion that anti-zionism = anti-semitism.

    `Evildoer’, I’d say the emitome of imbecility is a rabid pro-zionist on a Marxist blog calling himself Evildoer. Isn’t there a web site with pictures of dead Palestinian babies you could be getting your rocks off to somewhere?

    Comment by David Ellis — October 1, 2011 @ 9:29 am

  12. David, you are either 13 year old or a imbecile or both. You make comments about Atzmon’s style and have deep insights about what motivates him but don’t know that he himself claims he doesn’t criticize judaism. And you guess my politics (wrong) based on me not agreeing with you, instead of taking a second to click on my name. Your opinions are only worth the socially necessary labor used in forming them, which in your case is zero.

    Comment by Evildoer — October 1, 2011 @ 8:50 pm

  13. John H, who I strongly suspect is just one swivel of the eyeball away from David Ellis, doesn’t seem capable of digesting the information he’s already been presented with.
    I’ve already pointed out to him on the S.U. thread, that Machover was indeed a target of one of Atzmon’s idiotic diatribes against “Jewish Marxists”.

    I’ve also pointed out to him that Machover has been supportive of the idea of a bi-national state.
    This is certainly not a slogan that “Engage” is happy with.

    As to the rather sterile debate about whether this would be a “One”, or “Two” State solution, Machover elaborates further:-

    “Will the disposition envisaged here be a one-state or a two-state setup? It will be both and it will be neither. It will be a one-state setup – in the sense that both national groups will be accommodated, as federated members, in one state. But that one state will not be Palestine; it will be a regional union. And it will be a two-state setup in the sense that each of the two national groups will have its own canton (in the Swiss sense) or Land (in the German Federal sense), where it constitutes a majority of the population.”


    Either way, the political implications of slogans can’t be reduced to numerical questions, but depend on the social content of the movement.

    As for Jonathan Cooke’s contribution in “Counterpunch”; this is just another example of ludicrous conspiracy mongering.
    In fact it’s been people on the left, those who are active in Solidarity Work with Palestinians who’ve exposed Atzmon’s quasi-fascist ramblings.
    Which is why he started his absurd campaign of slanders about “Jewish Marxists” and “Bundists”.
    Now the message has got across to a wider layer of people, this allegation is rendered even more absurd.

    Comment by prianikoff — October 2, 2011 @ 8:04 am

  14. Prianikoff: Machover, rightly calls Islam a divisive and sectarian belief system in the Middle East. Does that make him an Islamaphobe? No I don’t think so. I can see why Atzmon from his point of view criticises Machover and his bi-national state approach. It could appear as capitulation to Zionism. I don’t think it is but with his explicit rejection of a single secular state in which a non-zionist hebrew nation can co-exist with the Palestinians that makes it less clear. Atzmon is no quasi-fascist or anti-semite as far as I can tell and religion always has and always will be fair game for marxists.

    Sorry Evildoer but I didn’t bother checking the link behind your name because a name like that doesn’t deserve it and I still haven’t. Is it HP?

    Comment by David Ellis — October 2, 2011 @ 9:40 am

  15. If I was you Prianikoff I’d save my venom for the zionists but I think this proves you don’t

    `As to the rather sterile debate about whether this would be a “One”, or “Two” State solution, Machover elaborates further’

    If you think the two-state debate is sterile then you must approve the zionist state. Perhaps this is really why your `wing’ of the Palestinian Solidarity movement doesn’t like Atzmon and is constantly blocing with the zionists to characterise him as an anti-semite?

    Comment by David Ellis — October 2, 2011 @ 9:46 am

  16. Even if we concede that there is such a thing as a Hebrew Nation separate from the zionist movement not to actively call for a single secular democratic palestine does look awfully like a capitulation to zionism particularly when it is given a little bit of an ultra left gloss with statements like there can only be a socialist solution and how can we know what form that will take. In any case in a single democratic state there would be absolutely no chance of the Jewish wealthy and large minority of becoming oppressed.

    I’ve checked that link out now Evildoer and I see it is the SWP sympathising blog and they of course have joined in the witchhunt in order themselves not to become vicitims of it. THey have waged a long war for positions in the media and don’t want to lose those for any principled reasons.

    Comment by David Ellis — October 2, 2011 @ 12:21 pm

  17. If this Atzmon controversy does anything let it be to drive a wedge between the supporters of the bogus two-state lie/fantasy whether they be the zionists and their apologists themselves or supporters of the Palestinian feudal regimes and the stunted national bourgeoisie that cling to them and those who support the Palestinian and Jewish masses in a fight to the finish with the murderous Zionist state for a one-state democratic socialist solution that acknowledges the Palestinian majority and the interests of the Palestinians.

    Comment by David Ellis — October 2, 2011 @ 12:42 pm

  18. Atzmon’s intention is to drive a wedge between Jews and the rest of humanity. You cannot possibly have read what he has written or you are simply dishonest. Most of the Jews denounced by name by Atzmon are supporters of the abolition of the State of Israel as a state for the world’s Jews.

    Comment by levi9909 — October 2, 2011 @ 12:45 pm

  19. #18 I don’t deny he is somewhat sectarian but I’m not sure about most of the, you say Jews I’d say Marxists he’d say in heavily ironic quotes `Jewish Marxists’, that Atzmon denounces are all as equivocally for the abolition of the State of Israel as perhaps you think. I haven’t read that much Atzmon at all only what people have quoted as proof of his anti-semitism in this latest spat none of which seems to have been remotely conclusive of such a charge. When somebody brings out some racist quotes about Jews and Arabs being a sub-human ethnicity or such like perhaps it will be time to take more notice of these charges of anti-semitism. It is highly unlikely as if such an ethnicity existed he’d be part of it. I think most Marxists with a Jewish heritage or background that have split with Judaism will have made many of the same criticisms of the belief system as Atzmon in their time. People say he flirts with Holocaust Denial without much proof. Where he has touched on the Holocaust, agains going on what has been spouted by his enemies rather than what I’ve read, it seems he is opposing the Zionist appropriation of the Holocaust rather than siding with Nazis and anti-semites to cover the crimes of Germa fascism. But the most interesting thing for me is that this has been rolled out as Fatah are seeking recognition for the wretched bantustan in the UN which of course implies the recognition of Israel and abandonment of the refugees. I think it is more to do with a purge of opposition to the bogus two-state process than trying to rid the Palestinian solidarity movement of left wing anti-semites and right wing infiltrators for which there seems little evidence. In fact it is very difficult to see how outright fascists could ever support the struggles of an oppressed people with any sincerity.

    Comment by David Ellis — October 2, 2011 @ 1:26 pm

  20. I haven’t read that much Atzmon at all only what people have quoted as proof of his anti-semitism in this latest spat none of which seems to have been remotely conclusive of such a charge.

    You don’t seem to appreciate that anti-Semitism comes in different guises. The old-time anti-Semitism is a bit like the old time anti-Black racism. Messages are coded. So nobody goes on television and rails against the “niggers” or “kikes”. They say that Black people are enjoying privileges on account of affirmative action. They say that Jews control the press and Hollywood, etc. Unlike anti-Black racism, anti-Semitism today often comes in “radical” verbiage. That’s where Shamir and Atzmon come into play. I don’t think that Jews are going to be victimized today the way they were historically. The Blacks, the Latinos, the North Africans, the Arabs et al are the scapegoats, not the Jews. The main problem with Shamir and Atzmon is that they give the left a bad name in the same fashion that Ahmadinejad did through all his knuckleheaded commentary on the Judeocide.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 2, 2011 @ 1:41 pm

  21. Thanks for your input Louis but I don’t think it’s a simple lack of appreciation on DE’s part but a propensity for making things up as he goes along. It seems like only yesterday that he was accusing Gabriel Ash (evildoer) of being a zionist. Goodness! it was only yesterday.

    Comment by levi9909 — October 2, 2011 @ 1:57 pm

  22. `The main problem with Shamir and Atzmon is that they give the left a bad name in the same fashion that Ahmadinejad did through all his knuckleheaded commentary on the Judeocide.’

    But really though Louis, don’t you think there should be some evidence of Atzmon’s alleged anti-semitism and Holocaust Denial before he is accused of such things? Ahmedinejad’s crap if plane for all to see. By the way I do appreciate that anti-semitism comes in many guises not least being the virulet support for zionism amongst Jews not to mention that zionists have swallowed every anti-semitic trope there is as good coin.

    #21 I don’t make things up Levi. Unlike you I simply ask for evidence. It is not my responsibility to provide it but that of the accusers.

    Comment by David Ellis — October 2, 2011 @ 2:15 pm

  23. But really though Louis, don’t you think there should be some evidence of Atzmon’s alleged anti-semitism and Holocaust Denial before he is accused of such things?

    We have different definitions of anti-Semitism obviously. I think that it is anti-Semitic to speak about “Jewish Marxism”. In fact the article that Andy Newman linked to in his Comments are Free piece is utterly appalling.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 2, 2011 @ 2:20 pm

  24. Except Louis it is a piece in which Atzmon seems to be saying there is no such thing as Jewish Marxism in the same way for instance that there is no god except in the sense that people believe in it. Atzmon it seems is bewailing the abuse of Marxism by zionists to rationalise the zionist state he is certainly not raising the spectre of Jewish Marxism as a threat to Westerm imperialism in the way the Nazis and Hitler did but in an ironic way as if there is such a thing, which of course there isn’t, then it is acting in the interests of Western imperialism and its military base Israel.

    Comment by David Ellis — October 2, 2011 @ 3:59 pm

  25. David, have you read the article that I quoted from? It is trash. Atzmon wrote: “One of the last prime exponents of Judeo Marxist ideology is Professor Moshe Machover.” These are the words of a true meathead. Atzmon is a moron.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 2, 2011 @ 5:00 pm

  26. I agree with you that biogtry in today’s mainstream media is coded.

    Another example would be hearing a cable news commentator call a female politician a radical feminist, decoded it means she’s a loud mouthed woman who should shut up and get off her soapbox.

    I agree with your comment about Jewish Marxism. If it’s not anti-semitic as someone may argue, it’s certainly labeling at least.

    Years ago when I was a conservative (my crazy years ha ha), I used to be a supporter of Meir Kahane after discovering my maternal great grandparents were secular Jews.

    It wasn’t until a few years ago after becoming a marxist did I realize his views were very wrong.

    I always thought that Meir Kahane was a lover of the Jewish people.

    When you deeply analyze his speaking and writings, it becomes clear that he wasn’t a lover of his people as he claimed but a hater of Arabs.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — October 2, 2011 @ 7:00 pm

  27. This hypersensitivity to the charge of antisemitism is itself a pathology. Today, Zionism is vastly destructive physical and moral fact which oppresses the Palestinians and degrades the West. Antisemitism amounts mainly to deplorable manners. I hear the word, I assume it’s being used as a smear. To paraphrase the great Mike Quill, I’d rather be called an antisemite by a Zionist than a Zionist by anybody.

    Comment by J. Marlin — October 2, 2011 @ 7:05 pm

  28. As usual, when Atzmon is mentioned, you get anti-zionists attacked by anonymous trolls for being Zionists. Which just happens to be Atzmon’s stock in trade.

    Comment by Evildoer — October 2, 2011 @ 8:37 pm

  29. All the discussion about religion is always a touchy subject.

    I’m an atheist and believe in Marx’s comments about it that religion is the opium of the people.

    He remarked that religion is used by oppressors to make people feel better about the distress they experience like poverty and exploitation.

    Religion is an expression of economic injustice.

    My own personal belief is that religion is an illusion that we create to make life tolerable.

    I respect others rights to believe in whatever they want.

    I just think Marx had the right idea.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — October 2, 2011 @ 9:49 pm

  30. “#21 I don’t make things up Levi. Unlike you I simply ask for evidence. It is not my responsibility to provide it but that of the accusers.”

    You have said that Atzmon’s beef is with Judaism. You must have made that up because he says he does not have a problem with Judaism.

    You said evildoer is a zionist and he is not, he supports the abolition of the State of Israel, same as I do, same as Tony Greenstein does and same as Moshe Machover does.

    You simply make things up. You ask for evidence only as an afterthought to waste more time than you already have.

    Comment by levi9909 — October 2, 2011 @ 10:31 pm

  31. 27. This hypersensitivity to the charge of antisemitism is itself a pathology.

    The assumption that any expression of sensitivity is ipso facto hypersensitive is also pathological, since it means that the only sensitivity that isn’t hypersensitive is total insensitivity. Total insensitivity to any form of prejudice or bigotry, however less important than what you consider really important, is by any left standards pathological.

    “Deplorable manners” is considered by the Talmud worse than not studying the Torah. That is a Jewish standard that radicals should perhaps consider to adopt, because a group of people with no mutual respect cannot possibly achieve anything together, let alone change the world.

    I’d rather be lied about being a Zionist by anyone, then be accurately labeled an antisemite by a Zionist. But that is just me.

    Comment by Evildoer — October 2, 2011 @ 11:51 pm

  32. “The success of Hitler is directly attributable to the failure of the German Communist Party to fight him effectively” says Louis Proyect. Suppose the Communist Party had won. Would Louis say “The success of Stalin in directly attributable to the failure of the German Nazi Party to fight him effectively”? No.

    That’s because he believes that Stalin was better than Hitler, that murdering some millions of people was better than murdering other millions of people. In particular, that killing Jews is worse than killing Germans. Anti-fascism is racist to the core.

    Comment by jayn0t — October 3, 2011 @ 6:03 am

  33. I think Proyect may enjoy arguing with idiots like those defending Atzmon. But, I am not sure why Ash and Elf would waste the time and effort. At any rate Atzmon would not have gotten any coverage of Mearsheimer had not written a blurb for his book. Outside of the UK, I do not think many people had heard of Atzmon before this tempest in a teacup.

    Comment by J. Otto Pohl — October 3, 2011 @ 2:34 pm

  34. “Outside of the UK, I do not think many people had heard of Atzmon before this tempest in a teacup”. No, nor inside the UK either. Why are Zionists making mistakes like this – they used to be so smart? On the international stage, it started with the defeat in Lebanon in 2006, and continues with the loss of allies in neighboring countries. In the ‘teacup’ of left-wing blogs, Atzmon is clearly winning and the Zios losing. I suspect its that they had it their own way for so long they became incapable of self-criticism. In convincing others of the lie that everything Jews do is right, and anyone who opposes them is evil, they convinced themselves too. This hubris will in the end defeat them.

    Comment by jayn0t — October 3, 2011 @ 6:09 pm

  35. Review of The Wandering Who? by Gilad Atzmon


    Comment by Redscribe — October 3, 2011 @ 10:17 pm

  36. Deviating for a moment from the worthy topic of what Zionism is and what it isn’t — it should be noted that aside from the cowardly dead pricks like Nixon & JFK who almost destroyed the world there’s also living ones like Carter, who despite all the mythology of him being some kind of Peacenik, did more to escalate Uncle Sam into being a nuclear armed predator of the underseas through his deadly submarine programs than all of the other sociopathic Presidents combined, with the exception perhaps of Harry Truman, who Louis neglected to mention, but turns out to have been literally insane according to at least one of his personal aids.

    That’s right. According to professor Tom Volgy, the DP mayor of Tucson circa 1989, who strangely was also during his mayoral tenure simultaneously a distinguished political science professor at the University of Arizona — Truman was so close to nuking China as a result of Mao’s defiance during the Korean War that white house aids virtually had to stuff him in a straight jacket and inject him with sedatives. That’s per the inside scoop of the guy who was Volgy’s political science mentor, a real staff insider politico who was Truman’s top personal aid in the White House.

    Volgy, himself a rabid anti-communist of Hungarian descent, disclosed this to 75 souls in my PolySci 201 class back then in all seriousness. I never doubted him, even though he was the type of liberal asshole professor that would make jokes like: the Pentagon thought such and such a weapons system gave the “biggest bank for the buck” while the Soviets thought their weapon’s system provided the greatest “rubble for the ruble.”

    Ha ha I thought. Real funny you fucking twerp. On the first day of class he made some crack about the Soviets saying how miserable the wait was in the free bread lines. I shot up my hand from the back row and when called upon remarked: “Hey professor — what’s better, a society where people have to wait in line for free bread or a society in which people who have no money can’t buy bread and starve?”

    I recall he wasn’t looking at me exactly but was listening to my remark as he surveyed the class, probably looking at which women in the front had the shortest skirts, but when my punch line sunk in he turned to me with a jolt and pierced his eyes into mine like a heat seeking missile, his jaw agape, and the whole class turned around and looked at me like “who the fuck’s this guy?” and Volgy paused & almost stuttered but being a skillful bourgeois politician suddenly blurted out: “Well that’s a question that you & this class will decide over this semester.”

    Turns out on the 2nd day of class he announced what the rest of the semester would entail — a mock UN where the entire class would break up into teams that represented each country in the UN. Since nobody wanted Nicaragua, and I had just returned from 10 days there for the 10th anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution, I chose Nicaragua, a one man team. There was an odd woman out in the team pickings so naturally he decided, that since an election was coming up in Nicaragua that would decide the fate of the Sandinistas, that the last seat in the UN should be held by the Contras, over my objections that it was akin to providing a seat to the CIA.

    Needless to say that class brought down my grade point average as it was akin to the Palestinians getting a seat at the UN — no justice.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 5, 2011 @ 5:14 am

  37. So ther e are still people who who seriously try to argue that Atzmon is *not* an anti-semite? Laughable. His only defence is one of mental health.

    Comment by Jim Denham — November 19, 2011 @ 11:44 pm

  38. If you want a serious review of Atzmon’s book then I suggest http://azvsas.blogspot.com/2011/12/review-wandering-who.html and also 2 reviews by Gabriel Ash and Elias Davidson at Amazon and jewssans frontieres.

    I think there is some truth to Louis’s analysis but I also think that Leon’s work has stood the test of time for exactly the reasons Louis gave – its explanatory power and analysis. I certainly don’t think the Jews are a people but in Europe, at a particular time, they formed a national minority of sorts and under feudalism they comprised both – a caste – in European countries.

    However the explanation for the holocaust isn’t that difficult. I don’t have time now to go into it but anti-Semitism was primarily an ideology that integrated the plebian elements of the Nazi party, of which Hitler was one. Ironically at the very time Hitler came to power anti-Semitism was a waning force in German society. That was why from 1930-33 Hitler made very few speeches on the Jews. His main utility was to destroy the organisations of the German working class. Anti-semitism was the price that the Nazis extracted, amongst others.

    And because both capitalism and fascist barbarism are, at their heart irrational, the holocaust can well be understood as the consequence of this barbarism, the same barbarism that murdered 10 million Africans under Leopold in the Congo.

    Comment by Tony Greenstein — January 20, 2012 @ 5:18 am

  39. I have been following Atzmon’s writings and the controversy surrounding him for some time, and I welcome your comments, in particular your summary of Leon, Kautsky and other thinkers. You quote two paragraphs from Atzmon’s article, “Tribal Marxism for Dummies“:

    Jewish Marxism is very different from Marxism or socialism in general. While Marxism is a universal paradigm, its Jewish version is very different. It is there to mould Marxist dialectic into a Jewish subservient precept. Jewish Marxism is basically a crude utilisation of ‘Marxist-like’ terminology for the sole purpose of the Jewish tribal cause. It is a Judeo-centric pseudo intellectual setting which aims at political power.
    Palestinian thinkers were probably the first to realise that the situation in Gaza, Nablus and the refugee camps had little in common with 19th century Europe. This was enough to defy Marxism as a sole analytical political tool. However, the Jewish Marxists had a far more adventurous plan for Palestinians, Arab people and the region in general. They wanted Arabs to become cosmopolitan atheists. They suggested that Arabs should drop ‘reactionary Islam’ and liberate themselves as ‘the Jews did’ a century ago.

    You call the article “singularly stupid” and offer the two paragraphs as examples of “howlingly uninformed opinion.” I am not so sure, especially as regards the first.

    We agree that Marxism is a universal paradigm. But we also know that many have sought to make it serve narrow, even reactionary, interests, even at the cost of distorting it. What would you call such a distortion? If the ones doing it were motivated by narrow, “Jewish,” interests as opposed to universal human interests, would it be wrong to describe their product as “Jewish Marxism” (never for a moment mixing it up with real thing)?

    As for the second paragraph you quote, I do not think that the situation in Gaza, Nablus and the camps is enough to “defy” (invalidate?) Marxism as analytical tool. However, many people in the past, including some good people, have said similar things (e.g. Stokely Carmichael saying in 1969 that “Socialism was not an ideology for black people”; he later changed his mind) without being “singularly stupid.” Doesn’t Marxism, like every theory, have to prove its reality and power, its this-sidedness, in practice?

    Comment by Pondering Who — March 7, 2012 @ 9:50 pm

  40. There are two collective statements condemning Atzmon that have been issued over the past weeks, one by over twenty respected Palestinian academics and activists, calling on the movement to disavow Atzmon and provide no space for his poison (http://uspcn.org/2012/03/13/granting-no-quarter-a-call-for-the-disavowal-of-the-racism-and-antisemitism-of-gilad-atzmon/), the other by over 100 anti-imperialists from many nationalities and cultures, denouncing Atzmon as an antisemite who should not be promoted in any way (http://threewayfight.blogspot.com/p/atzmon-critique_09.html).

    Comment by Kersplebedeb — March 14, 2012 @ 4:20 pm

  41. Louis, could you post both statements as free standing posts or posts with your own comments?

    Thanks if you can. Rats if you can’t;)

    Comment by levi9909 — March 15, 2012 @ 2:57 am

  42. Some responses:

    Dear all, NOT IN MY NAME PLEASE. I express my deep sadness at the petition in the Electronic Intifada, a petition which is composed and signed by people whom I love and with whom I have been struggling for a vision of equality and peace in Palestine for years now. Gilad’s book, bravely, and on many levels, points at; touches; brings into language the existential complexities that link the Jewish and the Zionist questions. It cries out for making this link into a field of inquiry. The complexities of these links reflect both the depth to which any grasping of and responding to what is now happening in Palestine must traverse. It is controversial but so what? It is causing offence to some uncritically accepted coordinates of debate but so what? It may not be palatable or expedient but so what? There is absolutely no racism or any hatred in the book. It is written from love, from passionate truth-seeking and beyond all out of deep care for people, care for the being of people, both those who perpetrate violence and those who suffer at its hands. Indeed the book meditates on the origin of violence in Palestine, origin to which Zionism may be but a symptom. The accusation of racist anti-Semitism is a cynical attempt to prevent a question from being asked – an act of violence against questioning, against opening the possibility of self-questioning. We need a debate not petitions like this. It is precisely the lack of debate which serves simplistic views and structures of power. This refusal to touch a painful points, points that are in existential sense earlier than memory, is itself question-worthy. Why does anybody fall into a line of feigning ‘expediency’ so strongly like that? Touching the relationship between Zionism and Jewish being and thinking might well be needed precisely if anti-Zionism is to have any existential bite. I sense the force that leads to this petition and am despairing at it. At no time does it call for an engaging with, to take on board, accept, contest, disagree and inflect Gilad’s insights and pointers. This petition is written out of fear and political expediency. It caricaturises and then criticises the caricature. It is certainly not written out of dwelling together in the seeking of truth and justice. Can justice ever be achieved if truth, not merely of actions but also that being that brings these actions about, is not sought and brought into language? Ironically it is the statement that shows the urgency to canvass the insights it evades. We are all together. Together. There is something very telling and deep in this violent silencing and oblivious to freedom of speech, this blind conditioning of respect for the political stake that ought to unite all the people who struggle for justice in Palestine. I call for adopting the seeking of truth and the overcoming of existential fetters, as the objective of this political struggle.

    Therefore, if the statement about Gilad finds its way to our website than it is with the greatest sadness and regret that I have to withdraw my name from the declaration as well as from the website, as no attempt is made to disassociate the commitment to the statement from the commitment to the Palestinian statement about Gilad.

    With peace and love, Oren [Oren Ben-Dor, anti-Zionist former Israeli residing in the UK]
    Indeed I oppose the attacks on Gilad. Apart from considerations of the right of people to voice alternative views, and their right to be heard, I do not believe it is appropriate for Palestinians in particular to get involved in what is largely an intra-Jewish dispute.

    Ghada Karmi [prominent Palestinian writer/activist in the UK]
    Dear all

    I agree with Oren and Ghada and will not have my name added to a statement denouncing Gil’ad Atzmon. I believe it is not up to us to censor opinions with which we do not agree, particularly on the anti-Zionist side, and I am saying this as a Jew and an Israeli citizen, albeit living and working in Ireland.

    The discussions about him have taken far too much time and space, and as Lubna says, are diverting our attention from what is really important. If the group decides to publish this statement on the website, I will regrettably have to ask you to remove my name from the website and the list.

    In peace and solidarity,

    Ronit Lentin
    I agree with Ronit, Lubna, Oren, Sami, Ghada and others. Khalas. Those who feel strongly to add their name to support Condemning Gilad Atzmon can and should do it in personal capacity. We will not/should not post this on any group website. Those who want to post things on their individual sites should do so. Also those who wish to go to Munich or not go to Munich should also do it. But let us end this discussion here. It has taken far too much energy.

    Mazin Qumsiyeh

    Comment by Noel Ignatiev — March 16, 2012 @ 9:57 am

  43. Very disappointing, I must say. I’m surprised that Noel Ignatiev is posting this considering the ducking and diving he had to put up with from Atzmon when he asked him a simple enough question about Atzmon’s promotion of Jim W. Dean.

    How about these gems?

    Atzmon quoting Jim W Dean

    Atlanta has a lot in common with the Palestinians. We got invaded by foreigners with a desire to colonize. And like the Radical Orthodox Jews who want to ethnically cleanse Palestine of all Arabs, there were Yankees who called for the extinction of the ‘Southern Race’. They called for the killing of every man, woman, and child…and then having the land repopulated with ‘loyal stock’. Nice neighbors…kind of like West Bank settlers.


    And Atzmon responding to you pointing out the white supremacism in the Dean quote:

    I totally understand. But is this really a white supremacist argument? Is there any evidence of JD being a white supremacist except the interpretation we are attributing to him? Is there something I miss here?


    This is exactly the kind of obfuscating bullshit that people get when they seek any kind of clarification from Atzmon about what he is actually saying..

    You should be drawing the attention of his well meaning but unthinking supporters to the fact that Atzmon’s racism is the tip of an extremely nasty iceberg but what I don’t understand is your complete about turn following your own exposé of Atzmon.

    Comment by levi9909 — March 16, 2012 @ 11:07 pm

  44. Just to add that I don’t find Ben Dor disappointing at all. His substance free grandstanding is quite consistent. I personally prefer Zizek and even Homi Bhabha. But not every academic clown can join the cirque du Soleil. It’s good to have second-rate second-rate intellectuals as well.

    Comment by Evildoer — March 17, 2012 @ 1:11 am

  45. Sorry, didn’t link to the little chat between Noel Ignatiev and Gilad Atzmon:

    Comment by levi9909 — March 17, 2012 @ 4:30 am

  46. An informative article, thank you. One correction, though: The Wannsee (not Wansee) conference was in January 1942, not 1943. One more correction, of a different kind: I don’t think Atzmon is a moron, just a crank. He seems like a very intelligent person, despite his egregious antisemitism.

    Comment by matt — May 21, 2012 @ 11:22 am

  47. […] – Proyect, Louis (29 Sep 2011): The Gilad Atzmon controversy ,http://louisproyect.org/2011/09/29/the-gilad-atzmon-controversy/ – Qumsiyeh, Mazin (4 May 2012): The dysfunctional ideology of […]

    Pingback by JERUSALEM AND ATHENS | Uprootedpalestinians's Blog — October 5, 2014 @ 5:03 pm

  48. […] Landy. The third organiser, Ronit Lentin, has similar research interests – and, interestingly, distanced herself from a condemnation of Gilad Atzmon posted by Electronic […]

    Pingback by Academic Boycott conference at TCD | Engage — April 13, 2017 @ 12:17 pm

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