Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 25, 2014

Thoughts on Diana Johnstone and Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala

Filed under: anti-Semitism,comedy,France — louisproyect @ 7:54 pm

Over the years I’ve noticed an unfortunate tendency for the left to conduct polemics like an attorney. If someone like Nicholas Kristof is a district attorney building a case against Robert Mugabe, for example, he includes only his misdeeds. Then the leftist will trawl through print and electronic media to prove to the jury—the fence sitting public—that Mugabe is the best thing that ever happened to the people of Zimbabwe. The prosecution will fixate on homophobia and electoral fraud, while the defense will urge the jury to consider the sweeping land reform. Leaving aside Shakespeare’s suggestion as to what should happen to lawyers, it would probably be best for the left—particularly those who see themselves operating under the rubric of Marxism—to adopt a more dialectical approach, one that considers the contradictions and aspires to a higher level understanding.

Those were the thoughts that occurred to me after reading 80-year-old veteran left journalist Diana Johnstone’s defense of the besieged French comedian Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala that can be read here, here, and here in chronological order. The lawyer analogy certainly applies here more than in other cases since Dieudonné has been charged numerous times under France’s draconian Holocaust laws. Johnstone writes in her most recent piece in the Counterpunch Jan. 25-26 Weekend edition:

Dieudonné has been fined 8,000 euros for his song “Shoananas”, and further such condemnations are in the offing.  Such lawsuits, brought primarily by LICRA (Ligue internationale contre le racisme et l’antisémitisme), also aim to wipe him out financially.

One line in the chorus against Dieudonné is that he is “no longer a comedian” but has turned his shows into “anti-Semitic political meetings” which spread “hatred”.  Even the distant New Yorker magazine has accused the humorist of making a career out of peddling “hatred”.  This raises images of terrible things happening that are totally remote from a Dieudonné show or its consequences.

Much of Johnstone’s coverage of the case makes excellent points about the Holocaust industry in France in which the state and NGO’s use Hitler’s exterminationist policies as a cudgel to enforce Zionist ideological hegemony.

Since it would be unwise for an attorney to be too obvious, Johnstone does acknowledge one petty crime in the defendant’s rap sheet:

The worst thing Dieudonné has ever said during his performances, so far as I am aware, was a personal insult against the radio announcer Patrick Cohen.  Cohen has insistently urged that persons he calls “sick brains” such as Dieudonné or Tariq Ramadan be banned from television appearances.  In late December, French television (which otherwise has kept Dieudonné off the airwaves) recorded Dieudonné  saying that “when I hear Patrick Cohen talking, I think to myself, you know, the gas chambers…Too bad…”

She considered the gas chambers remark “offensive” but not “typical of Dieudonné’s shows.”

I certainly understand how jokes can be made about extermination. In “Defamation”, a documentary on Norman Finkelstein and Abe Foxman made by an Israeli filmmaker, we see Norman in the stairwell of his building raising his arm in a Nazi salute as unexpectedly as Dr. Strangelove. That’s his way of showing that he refuses to bow down to the Israel lobby. There’s also Larry David who provokes a Zionist neighbor into a screaming fit after he hires a string quartet to play Wagner on his front lawn on the occasion of his wife’s birthday. I know for a fact that my rich uncle Mike wanted to spite my mostly Jewish and Zionist village in the Borscht Belt by buying my cousin Louis a Mercedes-Benz roadster on his 16th birthday back when German goods were verboten. Who are they to tell me what car to buy, he insisted.

There’s only one problem in trying to apply this type of joking across the board. It is one thing for a Jew to make jokes about six million killed; it is another for someone like Dieudonné. As an analogy, when Black rappers use the word “nigger” in a song, it has a different character than when a Klansman would.

Now, I would leave open the possibility that Dieudonné is only “playing” a character with provocative statements about genocide after the fashion of Sasha Baron Cohen’s Borat but there are some worrying signs that there is more to it than that. Johnstone says that the wisecrack about gas chambers is not typical but how would she characterize the guest appearance of genocide “revisionist” Robert Faurisson during a Dieudonné performance. One can certainly understand Chomsky defending the free speech rights of Faurisson but you judge whether this is what prompted Dieudonné to invite him on stage:

I also wonder what his goal was in the film L’Antisémite that unfortunately was another victim of France’s repressive legal codes. I find Tablet magazine to be an obnoxious purveyor of Zionist propaganda but something tells me that this account rings true:

The opening 2-minute skit of the film consists of a Chaplanesque [sic] newsreel narration set during the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945. The quivering, grabby hand of a pinstriped inmate extends out from behind barbed wire as the emaciated survivor jostles with a fleshy cigar-smoking capo for attention from the camera. Dieudonné arrives dressed as an American sergeant and throws scraps of food at the beggar, commanding him with a hearty laugh and flash cards to “Mange! Bouffe!” (“Eat! Grub!”) The prisoner then reveals the existence of the gas chambers to Dieudonné. As a kitten laps up liquid from a Zyklon B canister, Dieudonné sniffs at the canister suspiciously and then dabs some on his neck like cologne. Together they sift through the ashes of a barbecue pit. “Chicken?” the skeptical Dieudonné asks. “No, those are children’s bones,” the prisoner tells him. Dieudonné proceeds to sit on a leather chair only to be yelled at by the prisoner “for sitting on my grandmother!” He picks up a chandelier and asks if it too was made of Jewish skin. “Bien sûr,” replies the prisoner before Dieudonné plops it over his head and electrifies him as if in a cartoon. The film also features guest appearances by the aged Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson and ghastly National Front ideological guru Alain Soral.

I don’t know. I think I have a pretty good sense of humor but this sounds like the work of what Bebel called the “socialism of fools”.

Well, maybe Dieudonné cast Soral because he is photogenic or because he wanted to make some subtle satirical point. The historical record is a bit disconcerting. In 2009 the two men ran for the European Parliament elections on the Anti-Zionist Party ticket. Their program was unabashedly pro-Muslim and benefited from Soral’s populist message:

The fight against the rise of commercial globalist totalitarianism which is what the European Union is in reality; the defense of French workers and their rights against the plan for the destruction of our industries, public services, and small businesses by globalized capitalism, hence by the European Union; the return of the State to all large economic sectors, or a well-reasoned protectionism.

It should of course be understood that Johnstone has a soft spot in her heart for the National Front Party in France, whose leader Marine Le Pen she considered a “moderate” among the candidates running in the 2012 elections:

This applies notably to Marine Le Pen, whose social program was designed to win working class and youth votes.  Her “far right” label is due primarily to her criticism of Muslim practices in France and demands to reduce immigration quotas, but her position on these issues would be considered moderate in the Netherlands or in much of the United States.

While Marine Le Pen and Alain Soral were both associated with the National Front, he apparently broke with them on how to regard Muslim immigrants. With respect to the National Front’s demand to “reduce immigration quotas”, Marine Le Pen has a flair for demonstrating her party’s program on keeping the undesirables out. In 2011 she visited Lampedusa, an Italian island that is an entry point for North African boat people. She stated during her visit that Europe’s navies “in reality … should go as close as possible to the coasts from where the clandestine boats departed to send them back.” Lampedusa, of course, was in the news last year for being in proximity to a boat from North Africa that capsized and left 300 dead.

One would think that a man with a Cameroonian father would want to hold National Front politicians—past and present—at arm’s length, given their nativist politics or that they would want to keep their distance from him given his pro-Muslim statements. However, the relationship between Dieudonné and Le Pen the father and Le Pen the daughter is complex, to say the least.

The Financial Times reported that Marine Le Pen agrees with the penalties being handed down against the one-time comedian:

Marine Le Pen, who heads France’s far-right National Front party, prides herself on being a lawyer, and a media lawyer at that. So she has no doubt that chilling anti-Semitic statements made recently by the provocative comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala are actionable under a French law that bans hate speech.

“What he said against Patrick Cohen is against the law, and Mr. Dieudonné knows that perfectly well,” she said last week during a two-hour interview with the Anglo-American Press Association of Paris. “So he must assume the consequences, and he should be sanctioned.”

Yet the father is still on his side apparently:

However, she didn’t deny that he is a friend of her father, who, by the way, is godfather to one of Dieudonné’s children. “One can have a friendship for someone without sharing their ideas, or being condemned in their place,” she added.

If only it were so simple. In fact, her father’s views are not so far from those of Dieudonné, particularly about the Holocaust, a regular theme of the comedian’s routine. Mr. Le Pen once famously dismissed the Holocaust as “a mere detail of history.” In 2012, an appeals court upheld a three-month suspended sentence and a €10,000 fine against Mr. Le Pen for his statement that the Nazi occupation of France was not “particularly inhumane.”

I really wonder what went through Dieudonné’s mind when he decided that Jean-Marie Le Pen was just the right person to be his kid’s godfather. After the French banlieue riots, he had this to say: “Many live by dealing in drugs, or stealing. They have created their own ghettos. We have places where there are no schools, because they have set them afire and the police and firemen are attacked when they go there. Civilization is slowly evaporating from this country.”

I could be wrong but Dieudonné strikes me as the French version of Clarence Thomas or Roy Innis, the former civil rights leader who found it to his advantage to hook up with the Republican Party right. It is a bit harder to place Dieudonné politically on the French spectrum since he tends to be coy about what he stands for, but if you think that he is on the left, then you really have no idea what the left is about.

I want to conclude with what is the most important point of all. It should be obvious that charges against Dieudonné as helping to creating the conditions for anti-Semitic pogroms is utter nonsense. Jews enjoy a privileged position in the entire industrialized world and their elites are deeply embedded with the majority Christian ruling class. The people who have the most to worry are the Muslims in places like France, Spain or Italy who get beaten up or killed by skinhead mobs who are facilitated by the “mainstream” political parties such as Marine Le Pen’s National Front that like the KKK in the United States learned long ago to wear business suits rather than white robes.

The problem is Dieudonné’s amalgam between Zionist and Jew that is exactly the equation put forward by the Abe Foxman’s and Eli Wiesel’s of the world. With so many young Jews on the front lines supporting BDS, the tides are turning against Zionism. The goal of the left should be to deepen the divide between young Jews who understand how rotten Zionism is, not to spread the lie that being a Jew and being a Zionist is the same thing.

Dieudonné’s greatest offense is not that he is anti-Semitic; it is that he is anti-political.


  1. Good, smart piece, Louis. I’m jealous. If this isn’t widely seen on the Net, something is wrong with social media.

    Comment by Michael Hirsch — January 25, 2014 @ 8:10 pm

  2. Your title focuses on Diana Johnstone, but the article’s thrust is elsewhere. Johnstone has tried to explain to a mostly non-French readership what is involved in the efforts of the Socialists in France to muzzle him and quash freedom of speech (a topic you don’t even mention). I wonder if your French is good enough that you can understand the many videos of Dieudonne’s performances, or perhaps you don’t think knowing French is an impediment. You refer to a “left” in France, but where is that “left”? Your dear New Anticapitalist Party, which has sunk into oblivion? Thankfully, the American ruling class is still more constrained in its attempts to restrict freedom of speech than the French Socialist government is.
    I submit this in full knowledge that you have resorted to vulgar vitriol to urge me never to post anything on your blog.

    Comment by David Thorstad — January 25, 2014 @ 9:23 pm

  3. The video I linked to in my article is subtitled. Anybody who invites Robert Faurisson on stage is vermin in my opinion. You and Johnstone are entitled to your own opinion.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 25, 2014 @ 9:39 pm

  4. On this see (from the Ligue des droits de l’homme): http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article30780

    And an exposure of Dieudonne’s supposed anti-Zionism: http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article30833

    Peter Drucker

    Comment by Peter Drucker — January 26, 2014 @ 11:48 am

  5. He’s a racist Muslim who doesn’t like Jews. It’s not so difficult to understand. The far-right in Europe lends vocal support to the Palestinians for the same reason, because the enemy of an enemy, etc.

    Jews make up .1 % of the world’s population, 1/1000 or so. The Left’s obsession with Zionism in a world of 7 billion people, with numerous foul governments and ongoing atrocities is anti-Semitic.

    This obsession only makes sense if a person believes Jews control the world or exercise undue influence on it. And thankfully in the Asian century this concept will be rather laughable.

    As we see with the recent Israeli apology to John Kerry, it’s the US who pulls the strings and exercises power and Israel will be an ally only as long as it remains useful.

    Americans looking for a boycott would best be served to start with themselves. But American Leftists could never think of that.

    Comment by jeff — January 27, 2014 @ 1:05 am

  6. Excellent commentary.

    Comment by Jed Brandt — January 27, 2014 @ 1:42 am

  7. Great piece.

    You wouldn’t be surprised at your analogy between Dieudonne and Clarence Thomas once you take into account the subtle racism between emigres divided by generation in France. It’s likely to find a dozen like Dieudonne himself, but it’s unlikely that they’re first generation immigrants. There’s a sense among the Arab French who’ve been in France for over a half century that the ‘new’ Arabs are abusing the advantages of the social welfare state and destroying public order, etc. And that generation is not necessarily assimilated into French society and culture.
    I think not enough commentators appreciate the depth and pervasiveness of cynicism and self-hate among Arabs.


    Comment by Anas El Hawat — January 27, 2014 @ 3:18 pm

  8. Finally you seem to be coming to your senses somewhat.

    What it is more like is Kristof bashes Mugabe, then you bash Mugabe as well as the barely findable part of the far left fringe who, often correctly, points out holes in what Kristof said.

    I doubt some worker in the third world being told some white American (retired) professional is bashing Mugabe, Assad, Yanukovych and bashing those being accused of being their “supporters”, would think of you as an ally. I myself don’t want to hear any criticism from a white American professional of any figure worldwide, unless the US is supporting that person and they want it stopped. It’s just a left liberal adjunct of the usual US imperialist attitude.

    While Noam Chomsky will sign a letter for someone in a Cuban or Venezuelan jail from time to time, you don’t see him spending so much of his time criticizing the failings of Castro or Chavez or whatnot. He is also someone with a wide reach in the US and worldwide. I wonder why he thinks his efforts are not best spent in this kind of Trotskyite-like leftist infighting and circular firing squad. Although maybe it’s unfair to call it Trotskyite-like, I’ve seen it in so many corners of the left.

    The fundamental difference between someone like myself and yourself is you seek to understand the world. I seek to change it. It’s a part of the dialectic approach you seem to be missing. You seem to be so far off base that I don’t think most people like me would spend much time trying to explain things. You’re not someone I feel I have to explain myself to either, as I would perhaps to some PSUV or PFLP member who was unhappy with what I was saying. You seem to think because I don’t want NATO to bomb Qadaffi that I am someone who sees his “Green Book” as the blueprint for the world. And if some far fringe leftie really is a 100% Assad supporter, who cares? That you think that is worth wasting time on shows an odd political bent.

    Comment by Adelson — January 29, 2014 @ 12:02 am

  9. The fundamental difference between someone like myself and yourself is you seek to understand the world. I seek to change it.

    Fucking idiot. I have a 300 page FBI file and looked down the barrels of M16’s carried by Klansmen in Houston in 1974. Who are you except for some piece of shit troll?

    Comment by louisproyect — January 29, 2014 @ 12:12 am

  10. “I would leave open the possibility that Dieudonné is only “playing” a character with provocative statements about genocide after the fashion of Sasha Baron Cohen’s Borat but there are some worrying signs that there is more to it than that.”

    Why do you assume Cohen is playing?

    This article could easily be written from the opposite direction, that the left only focus on the negatives of Dieudonné and take the liberty of putting words into his mouth.

    As for the idea that “The far-right in Europe lends vocal support to the Palestinians for the same reason” – this is a blatant falsehood, has this person heard of Breivik? In the UK the Zionists lined up with the far right EDL. jeff must be an arch Zionist who supports the oppression of the Palestinians, it is the only way you can understand his whole comment.

    And in Europe the main focus of the far right is not for Jews but for Muslims, Muslims are the new Jews. Those who refuse to accept this simply are no better than the far right they pretend to decry.

    jeff should not be trusted. A wolf in sheep’s clothing!

    Comment by The Man With No Name — January 29, 2014 @ 6:47 pm

  11. […] don’t find anything funny about the “comedian” Dieudonné. In January I responded to Diana Johnstone who had made the case for him as a satirist on France’s well-documented support for Israel’s […]

    Pingback by French anti-Semitism: important resources from Lenin’s Tomb | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — August 18, 2014 @ 6:54 pm

  12. BTW Dieudonné is not Muslim and is not of Muslim background but Catholic rather.

    Comment by Michael T — May 2, 2016 @ 6:43 am

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