Anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism: Moishe Postone speaks on "a fetishized, profoundly reactionary form of anti-capitalism..."

Submitted by dalcassian on 13 June, 2009 - 2:38 Author: Martin Thomas

Moishe Postone is speaking in London on Monday 15 Jun 2009 - 7:00pm, Room G50, SOAS, Thornhaugh St/ Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG

Moishe Postone's talk is entitled "History, the Holocaust, and the Left". His article "History and Helplessness: Mass Mobilization and Contemporary Forms of Anticapitalism" is available for free download here.


The impasse to which I am referring has been dramatized recently by many responses on the Left, in the United States and in Europe, to the suicide bombing of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, as well as by the character of the mass mobilizations against the Iraq War.

The disastrous nature of the war and, more generally, of the Bush administration should not obscure that in both cases progressives found themselves faced with what should have been viewed as a dilemma — a conflict between an aggressive global imperial power and a deeply reactionary counterglobalization movement in one case, and a brutal fascistic regime in the other.

Yet in neither case were there many attempts to problematize this dilemma or to try to analyze this configuration with an eye toward the possibility of formulating what has become exceedingly difficult in the world today — a critique with emancipatory intent. This would have required developing a form of internationalism that broke with the dualisms of a Cold War framework that all too frequently legitimated (as “anti-imperialist”) states whose structures and policies were no more emancipatory than those of many authoritarian and repressive regimes supported by the American government. Instead of breaking with such dualisms, however, many who opposed American policies have had recourse to precisely such inadequate and anachronistic “anti-imperialist” conceptual frameworks and political stances.

At the heart of this neo-anti-imperialism is a fetishistic understanding of global development — that is, a concretistic understanding of abstract historical processes in political and agentive terms. The abstract and dynamic domination of capital has become fetishized on the global level as that of the United States, or, in some variants, as that of the United States and Israel. It goes without saying that the disastrous, imperial, and imperious character of the Bush administration has helped mightily in this conflation. Nevertheless, it is unfortunately ironic that, in many respects, this worldview recapitulates one of a century ago in which the subject positions of the United States and Israel were occupied by Britain and the Jews.

However counterintuitive this similarity — between a critique of hegemony today that understands itself as a critique from the Left and what had been a rightist critique of hegemony — it points to overlapping fetishized understandings of the world and suggests that such understandings have very negative consequences for the constitution of adequate antihegemonic politics today... the modern anti-Semitic worldview understands the abstract domination of capital — which subjects people to the compulsion of mysterious forces they cannot perceive — as the domination of International Jewry.

Anti-Semitism, consequently, can appear to be antihegemonic. This is the reason why a century ago August Bebel, the German Social Democratic leader, characterized it as the socialism of fools. Given its subsequent development, it could also have been called the anti-imperialism of fools. As a fetishized form of oppositional consciousness, it is particularly dangerous because it appears to be antihegemonic, the expression of a movement of the little people against an intangible, global form of domination.

It is as a fetishized, profoundly reactionary form of anti-capitalism that I would like to begin discussing the recent surge of modern anti-Semitism in the Arab World. It is a serious mistake to view this surge of anti-Semitism only as a response to the United States and Israel. This empiricistic reduction would be akin to explaining Nazi anti-Semitism simply as a reaction to the Treaty of Versailles...

Rather than analyzing [the] reactionary form of resistance in ways that would help support more progressive forms of resistance, however, many on the Western Left have either ignored it or rationalized it as an unfortunate, if understandable, reaction to Israeli policies in Gaza and the West Bank. This basically uncritical political stance, I would argue, is related to a fetishized identification of the United States with global capital. There are many implications of this conflation.

One is that other powers, such as the European Union, are not treated critically as rising cohegemons/competitors in a global capitalist dynamic order, whose rising positions help shape the contours of global power today. Rather, the role of the EU, for example, is bracketed or Europe is implicitly treated as a haven of peace, understanding, and social justice. This form of misrecognition is related to the tendency to grasp the abstract (the domination of capital) as concrete (American hegemony). This tendency, I would argue, is an expression of a deep and fundamental helplessness, conceptually as well as politically.

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