This is a guest post by Marko Attila Hoare, Reader at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Kingston University, and European Neighbourhood Section Director for the Henry Jackson Society. Marko blogs at Greater Surbiton.
One of the most insidious things about the radical left-wing discourse of class warfare and imperialism is the way in which it is increasingly providing a cover under which the worst forms of bigotry, even murderous or genocidal bigotry, can masquerade as something ‘progressive’. So effective is this propaganda technique that today it is increasingly being adopted by members of the right and far right as well. Indeed, right-wing and left-wing opponents of our contemporary, cosmopolitan, global civilisation are increasingly resembling each other, dressing up anti-Semitism and other forms of racism as resistance to imperialism or capitalism.
Take the example of anti-immigrant racism. The BNP regularly presents its racism in class-warfare terms: ‘The only political party in Britain that is opposed to the immigration racket and its devastating effect on British jobs is the British National Party. We are poised to throw the entire weight of our campaigning machinery into action in support of striking British workers. We, unlike the unions and Lib-Lab-Con, will stand by our own people no matter what the cost. For decades we have had a simple slogan explaining our position: BRITISH JOBS FOR BRITISH WORKERS!’
But even less crude opponents of immigration are ready to play the class-warfare card. In the words of Jeff Randall, writing a couple of years ago in the Daily Telegraph: ‘By lowering wages, migrants enable the middle classes to hire more home-caterers, dog-walkers, house-cleaners and hedge-trimmers for less cost than before. Very nice, if you’re an investment banker in Kensington. Not so hot, if the last job you had was polishing his Bentley.’ Of course, working-class families might also benefit from Polish plumbers charging less than British plumbers, but this particular Telegraph columnist has learned the value of dressing up his right-wing viewpoint in quasi-Marxist clothes.
He is far from alone. Writing in the Yorkshire Post, Bernard Dinneen complains that in permitting mass immigration, ‘Labour politicians were the culprits; they betrayed the working class. ’ Sue Reid, in the Daily Mail, wrote an article entitled ‘The great white backlash: Working class turns on Labour over immigration and housing’. She argued that in light of increasing ‘white working-class’ receptivity toward the BNP, ‘Perhaps this should serve as a timely warning to Hazel Blears and the rest of the New Labour hierarchy, who many feel have let down the ordinary people who put them in power.’
The problem is not that the language of the left is being cynically misused by racists and right-wingers, but that the links between left-wing discourse of ‘class warfare’ and ‘anti-imperialism’ on the one hand, and racism and anti-Semitism on the other, are much deeper than leftists are often ready to admit. When Ukrainian peasants rebelled against their Polish aristocratic landlords in 1648, their ‘class warfare’ was directed in particular against the landlords’ Jewish estate-managers; in practice against Jews in general, tens of thousands of whom were slaughtered. I hope it is unnecessary to point out that anti-Semitic slaughter of this kind does not become acceptable simply because it is an expression of ‘class struggle’.
For modern socialists and anarchists, hostility to capitalism frequently went hand in hand with hostility to Jews, as evidenced by the anti-Semitism of Proudhon, Fourier, Bakunin and others, including Marx himself. Fascism itself had radical socialist origins, as the brilliant historian of fascism Zeev Sternhell has demonstrated. Early fascists replaced the class struggle with the national struggle as the weapon for attacking liberalism and democracy; they believed redistribution of wealth and power should occur between nations, rather than – or in addition to – between social classes.
The most radical ‘national socialist’ experiment was, of course the one undertaken by Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers Party. As Hitler said: ‘We are socialists, we are enemies of today’s capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are all determined to destroy this system under all conditions.’ Hitler saw the task of his National Socialists as freeing the German workers from the influence of ‘Jewish’ international socialism, and of freeing the German economy from the control of ‘Jewish’ international capital. In power, the Nazis expropriated the wealth of Jews and of other nations, redistributing it in favour of Germany and German ‘Aryans’.
Yet genocidal impulses are scarcely an aberration in the revolutionary left’s tradition. Notoriously, Marx and Engels believed in the existence of ‘counter-revolutionary nations’ fit only to be exterminated. In 1849 Engels called for a ‘war of annihilation of the Germans against the Czechs’ as the ‘only possible solution’; he described the Croats as a ‘naturally counter-revolutionary nation’ and looked forward to the day when the Germans and Hungarians would ‘annihilate all these small pig-headed nations even to their very names.’
Left-wing radicals, unrestrained by any belief in the virtues of moderation and restraint, will frequently slip down the slope from aggressive radicalism into outright chauvinistic hatred, with their radical ideology simply a means by which their inner rage against particular groups of people can find socially acceptable expression. And in recent years, the more the prospect of revolutionary social change in the direction of socialism has receded in the advanced capitalist world, the more radical leftists and their fellow travellers have been ready to descend into the gutter of chauvinism directed against ‘counter-revolutionary nations’.
During the Wars of Yugoslav Succession of the 1990s, a considerable portion of left-wing opinion in the West made it abundantly clear that it did not respect the right of ‘counter-revolutionary nations’ such as the Croats, Bosnian Muslims and Kosovo Albanians even to exist, let alone to receive solidarity in their struggles for national survival. The genocidal campaigns of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic were invested with an ‘anti-imperialist’ content, so had to be defended against ‘Western media bias’ and ‘demonisation’. What was chilling at the time was that, once the nations in question had been marked as ‘pro-imperialist’, their only legitimate option – as far as the ‘anti-imperialists’ were concerned – was to lie down and die. Any attempt at resistance to their national destruction on their part was condemned as a crime equivalent to – indeed worse than – the original Serbian assault on them, while any expression of solidarity for them by others in the West was condemned as ‘support for Western intervention’.
The Western leftists who defended Milosevic’s genocidal campaigns internalised the Serb-nationalist ethnic stereotypes of Croats as ‘Ustashas’, Bosnian Muslims as ‘fundamentalists’ and Kosovo Albanians as ‘criminals and drug smugglers’. There were plenty of ironies in the sort of arguments used to deny the right of these peoples to national existence. Opportunistic anti-Semitic statements made by Croatian president Franjo Tudjman in his book Wastelands of Historical Truth were cited to tar the entire Croat nation with the brush of fascism by leftists who have consistently turned a blind eye to – if not actively apologised for – the far more extreme and integral anti-Semitism of groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah or of the Iranian and other Muslim regimes. The Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic, who never expressed any chauvinism toward Christians or Jews and who presided over a secular state, was condemned as a reactionary Muslim by leftists who would soon be supporting ‘resistance’ to ‘imperialism’ and ‘Zionism’ in Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan on the part of genuine murderous Islamists, or uniting with British Islamists to form the ‘Respect’ party.
Leftist stereotyping of Kosovo Albanians as drug smugglers and criminals is simply the same stereotyping as that employed by the BNP against Albanians and other immigrants or ethnic minorities. Thus, the Socialist Unity website cited popular left-wing blogger ‘Splintered Sunrise’ to back up its own opposition to Kosovo’s independence, quoting him as saying ‘I’m opposed to independence for Kosovo because the place is run by a bunch of mafiosi, its economy is based on the trafficking of drugs, arms and women, and giving this basket case the attributes of statehood will make a bad situation worse.’ The BNP, too, opposes Kosovo’s independence on similar grounds, arguing
‘Albanians are spread all over Europe and especially in the criminal underworld. They are notorious for their effectiveness, unpredictability and incredible cruelty. Their main advantage to the other organized crime [sic] is the fact that they speak language [sic] nobody understands, their organization is based on family ties and if someone dares to speak out that person is being brutally murdered. In Europe, today the Albanian mafia is the main engine of traffic of drugs and humans, theft and falsification of passports, weapons and human organs trade, abductions, extortions and executions. In London these people control the entire network of prostitution, in Italy and Greece they deal with weapons and drugs’ smuggling. There are entire towns in Italy where the business is controlled by Albanians.’
However, ‘Splintered Sunrise’ attributed the BNP’s support for Serbia over Kosovo not to anti-Albanian racism, but to the Albanians’ own alleged sins: ‘the new BNP position has its roots in Londoners’ fear and loathing of violent Albanian gangsters’.
What is horrifying is not that the leftists in question are accusing Croatian, Bosnian and Kosovar leaders of things they are often not guilty of, or that the leftists in question are inconsistent or hypocritical. It is that such accusations are simply so many pretexts to support the destruction of the nations in question. These leftists do not want to give solidarity to progressive Croats who oppose anti-Semitism, or progressive Bosnian Muslims who support secularism, or progressive Albanians who oppose organised crime, with the goal of making Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo better places. On the contrary, the leftists are seeking to provide ammunition to those who would like to wipe these countries off the map altogether.
But for all the venom directed by ‘anti-imperialist’ leftists at the successor states of the former Yugoslavia, there is one state that they hate even more. Israel, in their eyes, is the ‘counter-revolutionary nation’ par excellence; its Jewish majority citizens condemned as ‘settlers’ (unlike immigrants in the West, who are not so condemned); its academics boycotted. Such leftists will line up with the most murderous and bigoted elements in the Muslim world against even the most progressive nationally conscious Jews on an ‘anti-Zionist’ basis; their need to deny Israel’s legitimacy as a nation and state trumping any opposition to anti-Semitism, fundamentalism, misogyny or homophobia they might be expected to have. Once again, they oppose Israel’s settlement building in the West Bank or discrimination against its Arab citizens not because they wish to align themselves with progressive Israelis who also oppose these things, but because they would, fundamentally, like to see Israel destroyed altogether.
The pretext for this left-wing hatred of Israel is that it is a ‘hijack state’ based upon the dispossession of most of the Palestinians who lived there until the 1940s. But this ignores the fact that other states are based upon similar or even larger-scale dispossessions of national groups, without their right to exist being called into question. For example, the Czech Republic’s relative ethnic homogeneity stems from the Czechs’ expulsion, following World War II, of two and a half million ethnic Germans from what was then Czechoslovakia. Likewise, modern Turkey is founded upon the extermination of a million Armenians and hundreds of thousands of Greeks during the 1910s and 1920s, and the expulsion and dispossession of hundreds of thousands more. But nobody claims the Czech Republic or Turkey is an illegitimate nation-state. It is Israel alone which is deemed to have forfeited its legitimacy as a nation on account of its leaders’ crimes of decades ago.
In each of the examples presented here, extremists try to dress up their bigoted hatred of whole ethnic groups or nations in radically progressive clothes. So the BNP will present its hatred of immigrants in terms of ‘supporting the British working class’, and radical leftists justify their hatred of ‘counter-revolutionary nations’ on the basis of ‘anti-imperialism’. Chauvinistic hatred does not become progressive simply because it is dressed in progressive clothes, and it is always worth looking beyond the window dressing to see what the agendas of such groups and individuals really are. Equally, it is time to acknowledge the problematic nature of such radical left-wing concepts as ‘class warfare’ and ‘anti-imperialism’, and the reasons they lend themselves so readily to abuse. When they are increasingly becoming the justification for the most extreme reactionary politics, something is very wrong.