The Return of ‘Left Anti-Semitism’ in Poland?

Submitted by cathy n on 3 August, 2006 - 1:19

By Piotr Kendziorek and August Grabski

Anti-semitism in Poland has not been articulated in the political language of the left since the time of the ‘anti-Zionist’ (in fact: anti-semitic) propaganda campaign of the 1960s inspired by General Moczar, and the later episode of the so-called Patriotic Association ‘Grunwald’ at the beginning of the 1980s. But articles which have recently appeared in the columns of the magazines “Lewa Noga” and “Rewolucja” (which are published by the Warsaw publishers “Ksiazka i Prasa”) give rise to the question of whether the ghost of anti-semitism is not again emerging in the guise of left ‘anti-Zionism’ in Poland.

Apologia for Anti-Jewish Terror:

Take, for example, the third issue of “Rewolucja”, in which 130 pages are given over to the question of the Israel-Palestine conflict. In eight articles by Palestinian and western European writers which have been translated into Polish, and also in the introductory text by Zbigniew M. Kowalewski (who functions as the editor-in-chief of this magazine), the same idea is returned to again and again: Israel is a racist and colonial state, which cannot claim a right to exist in any form. In addition, it is stated that this state serves as the most important instrument of world imperialism in the suppression of the Arab masses in the Middle East. In doing so, as the American political writer J. Petras adds in his numerous articles which have been published in “Rewolucja” and “Lewa Noga”, American imperialism itself carries out policies in the Middle East which are dictated by the Jewish-Zionist interest group (with the result that it is not entirely clear whether Israel is an instrument in the hands of American imperialism, or, as Petras suggests, it is the other way around).

From this he draws the conclusion that any negotiations with this state mean the betrayal of the Palestinian national interest, and the betrayal of the international struggle of all peoples and classes oppressed by imperialism. And since this struggle is a matter of life and death, all methods of struggle are therefore justified, even suicide bombings by Palestinians (including those directed against random and innocent Israeli civilians). As Kowalewski explains, it is, after all, a question of the removal of “a state which represents part of the defensive ramparts of western imperialism, and which is its central base in the heart of the Arab and Muslim world.” In arguing thus, these authors do not make any secret of the fact that for them it is not a question of mutual recognition of the national interests of the Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian nations, but rather a question of ending “the Jewish colonisation of Palestine.”

It is easy to guess what will happen to the “Jewish colonisers” in the liberated “historic Palestine” under the rule of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Brigades of the Al Aqsa Martyrs, and other organisations which are praised because of their uncompromising struggle against the Israeli occupation. “If the contradictions cannot be solved other than by means of force, such as in the event of the kind of invasion which is represented by the Jewish occupation of Palestine, then political justifications can easily become separated from compromises. … And those who take refuge in ideological justifications, who spread the ideas of “mutual existence”, “recognition of Israel” and “attempting to win support in the camp of the enemy” under the pretext of internationalism, and who insist that we should sing “we are the world” and should say to the Jewish aggressors on our land that we “have nothing against them as Jews” when they kill, throw people into prison, blow up houses, confiscate land, and do all those things which an occupier does! It is therefore more difficult to cure oneself of the ideological syphilis of compromise with Israel (emphasis added – P.K and A.G.) than it is to cure oneself of the political justifications of compromise with ‘Israel’, which, in any case, are becoming ever weaker and are collapsing of their own accord.” (I.N. Allusz)

Kowalewski’s arguments head in the same direction of radical anti-Jewish Palestinian nationalism. Kowalewski is concerned by the idea that Palestinian extreme right-wingers might organise less attacks on Jews than they have done so far. He therefore criticises the appeal of a group of Palestinian intellectuals who advocate the “de-militarisation of the intifada and, in particular, an end to the attacks on civilians” on the grounds that “it (this appeal) deepens the divisions between a large part of the academic intelligentsia, which is active in NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and which has emerged from the ‘secular and national-democratic’ milieu, and, on the other hand, a large section of the masses.” Then he refers positively to the statements of representatives of “organisations which participate in the armed struggle”, and which emphasise that “we reserve the right to attack everything which is Zionist in the territories occupied since 1967”, and also “the right to defeat Zionism in the framework of the territories occupied since 1948 (i.e. since the creation of the state of Israel – P.K and A.G.).” To justify this attitude he adds that such views reflect the social mood and the dynamic of the class struggle in Palestine.

With regard to the authors of this appeal and others like them who defend the idea of recognising the existence of the Jewish nation and its right to a state of its own, they are all, as is clearly stated in the article by Allusz which has already been quoted, in the pockets of the Zionists and the imperialists (which amount to the same thing in this discourse, as the concepts are mutually interchangeable): “It is a question of a new kind of intermediary appearing between imperialism and Zionism on the one side, and the Arab people on the other. These intermediaries exercise non-economic functions. This group comprises all Palestinians and Arabs who play in their societies political and intellectual roles in the interests of imperialism and Zionism. … In this group are to be found virtually all Palestinian intellectuals who have prostituted themselves by signing the appeal for an ending of the ‘militarisation’ of the intifada.”

What we are dealing with, therefore, is a group of parasitic intellectuals who are separated from the masses, and who have been subjugated by Zionism and its international agencies. According to the material published in the magazines under discussion, to this group there should also be added the anti-Zionist radical left in Israel and “almost the entire international solidarity movement which in supporting the perspective of the creation of an independent Palestinian state finds an alibi for renouncing the struggle against the racist Zionist state” (A. Handal, J. and P. Salingue). Counterposed to these “comprador elements” (Allusz) there is the real national resistance movement, with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, etc. in the forefront: “Their emphasis on conducting the armed struggle against the Jewish occupation of Palestine through to the end turns this broad current into a block of the real resistance movement. … The Palestinian masses identify with it because it is the best representative of their long-term interests, which rest upon the total liberation of Palestine from the Jewish occupation.”

It should not be forgotten that in the struggle for the elimination of the Jewish state matters of worldwide importance are at stake, because “the Palestinian question is at the centre of the problems of the world” (A. Sadat). “The struggle of the Palestinian people is the concentrated manifestation of the clash between the Arab nations of the Middle East and imperialism”, and therefore it can “serve as the link between the mobilisations unfolding in the Arab countries and the international resistance movement against globalisation” (Handal, Salingue). Zionism as an ideological expression of Israeli imperialism is thereby a key problem for all nations because – as M. Warschawski explains in the last issue of “Lewa Noga” – “the anti-Palestinian policies of Israel constitute a kind of local labour of the neo-conservative strategy on the global level. The basis of this strategy is provided by the repeated colonisation of the world … and, thereby, the establishment of a global system of racial-social apartheid. … At the beginning of the twenty-first century there are no longer any local conflicts” but rather “a neo-colonial war between the imperialism of the United States and the nations.”

Islamist radical right-wingers are said to be the representatives of the oppressed nations and Arab masses, the imperialism of the United States and Israel is said to be the main obstacle to ending the capitalist mode of production on a world-scale, and in Israel genocide of the Palestinians is supposedly taking place. (J. Loewenstein and J. Petras, who defends the thesis that Auschwitz is to be found today in Palestine). The right of Palestinians to return to Israel in the borders which existed prior to 1948 should be recognised. With regard to the last demand, it is again a question – and not for the first or last time – of the editors of “Lewa Noga” and “Rewolucja” using different criteria for Jews and non-Jews. Although these editors present themselves as fervent internationalists, they do not raise demands such as the right of return for Germans to those territories which were inside the borders of the German state in 1937.

The most curious author whose articles were published in “Lewa Noga” is a certain Israel Shamir – a Russian Jew who lived in Israel and who now lives in Sweden. From the very beginning of his anti-Israeli crusade a section of the anti-Zionist left was confronted in his articles by something with a similarity to Christian anti-Judaic fundamentalism. His anti-Israeli articles, however, were published with a feeling of satisfaction by a section of the socialist press internationally. But when it turned out that Shamir, being a neophyte of the Greek-Orthodox Church, believes in ritual murder, co-operates with Holocaust deniers, uses the anti-Zionist expression “Zog” (“Zionist Occupation Government”) in relation to the US government, endorses the theses of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, etc., etc., then even the American editors of the magazine “Socialist Viewpoint”, ultra-radical in their attacks on Zionism, decided to publicly apologise to their readers because of their flirtation with Shamir. But the editors of “Lewa Noga” were not prepared to engage in such an act of elf-criticism.

The Roots of the “Anti-Imperialism of Idiots”:

But enough of reproducing the monotonous discourse of the “anti-imperialism of idiots” (I. Deutscher) which is to be found in the columns of “Rewolucja” and “Lewa Noga”. We turn instead to the general problems associated with the notion of “left anti-semitism”. It is easy to recognise the similarity between this discourse and the kind of anti-Zionism which was propagated by the Moscow-controlled Communist movement (especially after 1967). In this discourse it is not just a question of the one-sided identification with Palestinian nationalism but also a question of the adoption of a whole number of ideas which are similar to anti-semitism. The problematic nature of this discourse has been the subject of extensive research by various left-wing authors for many years. In this respect, particular importance is to be attached to the work of T. Haury on anti-Zionism in the German Democratic Republic and to articles by authors linked to the German group “Initiative Socialist Forum” (ISF, which bases itself on the intellectual tradition of the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School).

These authors put forward the thesis that the decisive factor in the possibility of articulating anti-semitic notions in Marxist categories was primarily a unique “embourgeoisification” of Communist ideology in its Stalinist form, expressed in the acceptance of the thesis of two revolutionary subjects (which are to be linked to each other through the activity of the Communist Party: the exploited classes, and the oppressed nations). Thus, “socialism in one country” (Stalin’s well-known expression) is an expression which flows out of this linkage: the unity of socialism and the nation, national socialism, state socialism” (article by the ISF).

By accepting such ideas the (post-)Stalinists, and then a large part of the so-called New Left (which in many other respects rejected official Communism, which we define as Stalinist), have adopted a series of bourgeois-idealist conceptualisations concerning the social nature of the institution of the state and the nation. Thus, for example, there is the question of the conception of the state as an emanation of the homogenous nation. In this question the issue of state activities in the process of the constituting of nations (which has been researched by many prominent left-wing intellectuals, such as E. Balibar and E. Hobsbawm, to mention just two) is largely passed over in silence.

The emergence of national states can thereby be conceptualised as an act of a unique “national contract”. Out of this there flows a disregard for political-economic force as a constituent factor in the development of the state institutions (as the basis for the creation of national markets, which was the traditional argument of orthodox Marxism). The result of such an ideological viewpoint is to draw a distinction between “bad” and “good” states/nations. The former are allegedly to be found in the capitalist metropolises, while the latter are to be found above all in the so-called Third World, and some of the latter are blindly identified with by supporters of the “anti-imperialism of idiots”.

From this there arises the typical paradoxes which have been confirmed by many researchers, for example that a rejection of the right-wing variants of Polish-national anti-semitism can be accompanied, for example, by support for a Palestinian nationalism which is coloured by anti-semitism. Stefan Zgliczynski, editor-in-chief of “Lewa Noga” and leader of the KiP, can therefore write that “Jedwabne (a place where a section of the Polish population took part in anti-Jewish pogroms which had been provoked by the Nazis in 1941 – P.K. and A.G.) is to be found everywhere (in Poland)” and simultaneously publish apologetic texts concerning the Palestinian national movement (without, for example, mentioning in even a single word the fact that Article 32 of the so-called Charter of Hamas cites the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” as evidence of a Zionist conspiracy). It seems that the decision to approve including de facto anti-Jewish texts in the pages of the magazines published by “Ksiazka i Prasa” does not register in the understanding of Zgliczynski as being in contradiction to his earlier role as an expert and author of reports for the European Centre of Research and Action on Racism and Anti-Semitism.

From Dumbed-Down Anti-Imperialism to Racism:

The linking of the fact of the existence of the Jewish state and the Jewish diaspora to the old anti-semitic theme of the parasitic exploitation of other nations by Jews also appears in the anti-Zionist discourse under discussion here. Using formulae such as “Zionist” imperialism, colonialism and racism creates the link with left-wing ideological thought. Such links with categories of ‘progressive’ ideological thinking do not, however, alter the fact that “the anti-imperialist view of the world (i.e. the one being discussed here – P.K. and A.G.), in terms of its potency and tendencies, must be defined as structurally anti-semitic. It is characterised by Manichaeism, personalisation, conspiracy theory, and the counterposing of good peoples and bad finance capitalists” (T. Haury). The short road – as I. Deutscher poignantly noted – which leads from such an anti-imperialism of idiots to anti-semitism becomes visible when we take into account that in this kind of political conceptualisation Jews are not recognised as a nation (which, moreover, partly results from the acceptance of the definition of a nation which stems from Stalin) but are mostly defined as white racist colonisers. The question of anti-semitism and the Holocaust and their role as factors in the emergence of Zionism as a political movement and, later, in the creation of the state of Israel as a result of its efforts and struggles, is totally screened out of this discourse.

Looking at things from this point of view means that Jews in Palestine are always on the side of the forces of evil (as colonisers, racists, imperialists, capitalists) and that in this role they began (as S. Volkov poignantly notes) to fulfil in the Arab world the symbolic function of embodying the worst of the experiences of the post-colonial societies in their contacts with the Western world. It is no surprise that an uncritical adoption of such a point of view frightens away most Jews from the radical Left, and that it also leads on the one hand to a strengthening of the Zionist consensus in Israeli society (based on the feeling of fear, as described by M. Zuckermann), and on the other hand to a strengthening of the potential for anti-semitism in the nationalist ideologies of the western and European countries.

You do not need much empathy with the historical experiences of Jews in order to be able to agree with the words of the important Israeli Trotskyist militant Jacob Taut (author of the book “Zionism and the Jewish Question”, published in German), who lived in Palestine from the 1930s onwards: “This state, whose creation we criticised, … is now, after twenty years of its existence (the book dates from 1969 – P.K. and A.G.), a fact, the elimination of which by whatever Arab forces you care to think of would only lead to new misfortunes, murders and killings.”

As is obvious, the anti-Zionism of the Jewish anti-Zionist Left (for example, the new-left organisation Matzpen, or the Bund, which decisively defend the right of Jews to self-determination) has not got the slightest thing in common with the “anti-imperialism of idiots”. In any case, Israel’s right to exist is not disputed by the Fourth International, the most important international organisation of the radical left, and one whose activities are often referred to by the editors of “Lewa Noga” and “Rewolucja”. But in relation to the Israel-Palestine conflict the editors consistently keep quiet about the fact that the Fourth International has unconditionally abandoned the idea of a bi-national state on the territory of Palestine/Israel (for example, in the resolutions of the XIII Plenum of the Fourth International in 1991).

The conclusion which follows from all of this is that if anyone is writing about anti-Zionism and the radical left, then they should always clearly state what kind of anti-Zionism and what kind of radical Left they are dealing with. Otherwise, as is so often the case, the debates do not have a clearly defined subject-matter as their starting point, and are therefore often sterile. It is a pity that the editors of “Lewa Noga” and “Rewolucja” attempt so consistently to propagate precisely the ethically and politically most dubious ideas (stemming from the tradition of Stalin’s “Questions of Leninism”) to be found in the extensive and important political and theoretical inheritance of the New Left. Fortunately for Jews and the Left, there are also critical left responses to this left anti-semitism, as is evidenced by the names of writers and organisations referred to in our article.

This article is a shortened and slightly reworked version of the text which appeared in the Polish Jewish magazine “Midrasz” in June of 2006 (as a contribution to the debate being conducted in that magazine about the links between left anti-Zionism and anti-semitism).

Piotr Kendziorek: Author of the book “Anti-Semitism and Bourgeois Society: Neo-Marxist Interpretations” (Warsaw 2005).

August Grabski: Works in the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw; also co-author of the book “Trotskyism: Doctrine and Political Movement” (Warsaw 2003).

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