Thursday, December 12, 2019

Reading notes on Chapter 4 of The meaning of the Second World War by Ernest Mandel [1986]

The meaning of the Second World War

by Ernest Mandel

Verso: 1986

Chapter 4 Resources

World wars ....result from the operation of the law of uneven development, that is, from the contradiction between the tendency of the industrial-financial balance of imperialist forces to undergo periodic modification (through the upsurge of specific bourgeois classes previously retarded in their development) and the tendency for the division of the world into spheres of influence to remain frozen for a longer period. This last division is reflected in military naval build-up, in international alliances and preferential trade, custom and monetary systems which change much more slowly than the industrial-financial relationship of forces in and of themselves.

....German military-industrial establishment had embarked systematically on a huge programme of stockpiling vital raw materials before the start of the war. Indeed, this had become one of the essential aspects of war preparations.3 Once war had begun, and after the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, important additions came from, or via, the Soviet Union itself.4 Ianthe second place, the same establishment had systematically organized the substitution of chemical raw materials (above all synthetic rubber and oil), generally drawn from coal, for natural ones, which it knew it would lack in case of a prolonged war. These preparations were quite successful, although they made the resources vulnerable to concentrated aerial attack. In the third place, military conquest and long-term occupation of specific territories gave the German war machine access to riches it could neither produce nor afford to buy. To mention one example: by occupying France, Germany acquired a stock of natural gasoline larger than the whole annual production of synthetic oil in German factories. The German High Command, and Hitler personally, were absolutely obsessed with this aspect of direct physical plunder, and on several occasions modified basic military priorities in line with thatobjective.5 In the fourth place, military strength enabled Germany to blackmail neutral powers into 'selling' raw materials either against increasingly valueless paper currency or by exchange in the form of barter. The outstanding example of this was Swedish iron ore, but Turkish chrome and Portuguese wolfram also featured.6Henri Michel has summarized Sweden's collaboration with the Third Reich thus: 'From 1940 onwards, and throughout the war, Sweden supplied Germany with virtually all the iron-ore that it did not process itself, or some 9 million tons a year. After initial objections, it allowed the Wehrmacht to dispatch or withdraw troops and equipment across its territory by rail, or through its coastal waters. Between July and December 1940, 130,000 moved across Sweden in this fashion, in both directions, and more than500 wagons. By the time that a whole German division, with guns and baggage, travelled through Sweden to the Finnish lines against the Soviet Union in June 1941, Swedish neutrality was scarcely more than a fiction, as Nazi aircraft flew freely through its airspace.

....Japan, the 1941-2 offensive had the single important goal of reaching Indonesian oil and bauxite, Malaysian rubber and tin, and Indochinese, Thai and Burmese rice, so as to create the large and stable pool of raw-material resources required for a long war against China, the USA and Britain. Thereafter, the transportation of these materials to the homeland, hence the need to keep the sea-lanes between Singapore and Yokohama/Kobe open, became the key medium-term military objective of Japanese imperialism.

....To produce tanks and airplanes you need machine-tools, steel and aluminum; and to produce these you need other machine-tools, iron ore, coke, bauxite, oil or coal.

....The problem of the manpower needed both for a monstrous growth in the armed forces, and for the industry capable of supplying them with a steady flow of more and more sophisticated weapons, became a growing source of crisis and a subject of agonizing choices for all major powers during WWII - with the exception of the USA.

Reading notes on Chapter 3 of The meaning of the Second World War by Ernest Mandel [1986]

The meaning of the Second World War

by Ernest Mandel

Verso: 1986

Chapter 3 The Social Forces

....a conjunction of action by a broad spectrum of nations, social classes, fractions of social classes, political parties and narrower cliques (financial, industrial, military and political) over the whole globe.

....from France to Bengal, from Chad to Leningrad, from the Philippines to Birmingham, from Detroit to Bosnia, from the North Manchurian plain to Egypt, from Avellaneda to Milan. Never beforehand so many people, on all continents, participated directly or indirectly in political and armed combat.

....unable to do was to whip up enthusiasm for the slaughter. In sharp contrast to August 1914, no trains or convoys of soldiers in these years went to the front bedecked with flowers and followed by cheering crowds. War-weariness was present from the beginning.

[Britain]... wide-ranging programme of social reform, which a significant section of the middle class - critical of the high conservatism of the Tory leadership in the inter-war period - could and did endorse. The British war effort, despite its dependence on the USA, commanded a degree of national unity exceptional among the Allies. Churchill, as head of a government which actively incorporated the reformist Labour party, was therefore able to get away with

inroads on British workers' standard of living which Hitler did not initially dare to impose upon the German working class.

[USA,] ....unwillingness of the US leadership to send sufficient troops to fight the Japanese in Asia - because it would have meant escalation of casualties - was crucially important in determining American war policy towards the USSR and China. Throughout the war, class tensions grew more in the USA than inBritain.4 Moreover, they were increasingly combined with racial tensions, as the influx of black people into the great industrial centres of the Mid-West and the East accelerated, and as the networkers started to react against the generally racist atmosphere prevalent throughout the industrial establishment and in the neighbourhoods. Workers in the United States were more prone to rebel against no-strike pledges than in Britain. Similarly, officers 'control over soldiers was more readily questioned in the US forces than in any other regular army. War weariness, which spread only gradually in Britain in the last two years of the war, by contrast erupted on a large scale in the US services, with soldiers' strikes and mutinies in 1945 expressing the men's desire to return home as soon as the war was over in Europe and the Far East.

[USSR] ....No amount of exhortation by the state, party or military leadership would have succeeded without this determination of the Soviet masses to fight and win the war.

[German-occupied nations] ....The ruling strata waited for the Allied armies to defeat the Nazis and restore them to power, in the meantime actively collaborating with, or showing passivity in the face of, the invading troops. But the bulk of the population of the occupied countries chose instead to fight - and thus to take an active part in the reshaping of Europe after the war.

[Germany] ....SS secret intelligence reports ....record frequent working-class protests whenever wage-cuts occurred. When Goebbels's 'total war' mobilization of 1943 led to widespread replacement of male by female labour in industry, the employers used the occasion to cut wages by twenty per cent: both men and women protested vigorously.

....between February 1933 and September 1939, 225,000 men and women were condemned by Nazi courts for political reasons. To this figure we must add those imprisoned without trial in concentration camps, who on a given day - 10 April 1939 - were estimated by a secret Gestapo report to outnumber political convicts by fifty per cent: 162,734 as against 112,432. There were further 27,369 prisoners who had been officially charged with political crimes but not yet convicted.10 So it would not seem exaggerated to estimate the number of Germans arrested as political opponents by the Nazis from the day they took power until the start of the war as between 400,000 and 600,000….

....fear of Germany going revolutionary, as much as the growing power of the Soviet Union in Europe, which stimulated the desire of the Western Allies to have their troops in France and Germany at the time of the latter's military collapse. As in the case of Greece, Italy and Yugoslavia, so also in the case of Germany, the Soviet Union's influence over the Communist Parties was seen as potential bulwark against the 'anarchy' - indeed 'Communism' -lurking behind the power of the resistance movements, which emerged in full strength in March 1943.

....Stalin too considered Western Allied occupation a weapon against 'anarchy', as emerges from Eden's report to Churchill of his conversations with him in March 1943. Stalin, Eden noted, also desired a Second Front in Europe for political reasons, since: 'If Germany collapsed, he had no desire to take full responsibility for what would happen in Germany or the rest of Europe, and he believed it was a fixed matter of Russian foreign policy to have both British and United States troops heavily in Europe when the collapse came.


....uncontrollable and unpredictable social forces increasingly came to upset imperialist calculations for the region.

....Chiang and his cohorts viewed the mushrooming strength of this Communist-led alliance with growing concern. The Japanese, by comparison, were seen as a secondary problem, which would in any case be solved by an American military victory.

....The US policy in China thus stumbled over the same basic contradiction faced by the British in the Balkans, brought about by an increased intertwining of national-liberation and class wars. The more the masses organized, the more the pressure for revolutionary change grew and the less, in consequence, was the ruling class prepared to fight the invaders. The Kuomintang forces were instead kept in reserve for the final test of strength with the People's Liberation Army. On the other hand, the less Chiang fought the Japanese, the more the PLA became the centre of the national liberation struggle and the more the tide turned in favour of revolution

....Indochinese resistance movement fought obstinately against all the various post-war projects of colonial 'normalization' attempted, in combination with the native ruling class, by British, Chinese Nationalist, French and, much later, American forces. For the Indochinese people, the war did not end in 1945 but continued until the middle of the 1970s: their struggle, lasting nearly thirty-five years, conducted against Japan, France and the United States in succession, is without parallel in contemporary history. Given its relative isolation, the tremendous sacrifices it imposed on the population and the material and human destruction it entailed, the outcome of their heroic fight has been more painful for these courageous people (calamitous in Kampuchea)than one had expected or wished for.

[India]  ....resistance by the masses to the British colonial presence persisted throughout the war, despite all the blandishments of 'anti-fascist* ideology eagerly employed against the autonomous mass struggles by the British Labour Party and the Communist Party of India (a party notable, unlike that of China or Vietnam, for its slavish obedience to Moscow).

....The French Communist Party, fully engaged in its class collaborationist honeymoon, with Maurice Thorez serving as vice-president in De Gaulle's cabinet, behaved scandalously, going to the lengths of covering up for the repression by calling the Algerian nationalist leadership Nazis!

....Imperialist bourgeoisies; bourgeoisies in independent, colonial and semi-colonial countries; professional classes and the intelligentsia; urban and rural petty bourgeoisies; the working class; the landowning class; poor and dispossessed peasantry - all these major and minor classes and fractions of classes, organized by states and armies, parties, professional organizations and movements, entered voluntarily or under compulsion into the cataclysm of a war that began as an inter-imperialist struggle for world power.

....overall character of the Second World War must be grasped as a combination of five different conflicts:

1. An inter-imperialist war fought for world hegemony and won by the United States (though its rule would be territorially truncated by the extension of the non-capitalist sector in Europe and Asia).

2. A just war of self-defence by the Soviet Union against an imperialist attempt to colonize the country and destroy the achievements of the 1917 Revolution.

3. A just war of the Chinese people against imperialism which would develop into a socialist revolution.

4. A just war of Asian colonial peoples against the various military powers and for national liberation and sovereignty, which in some cases (e.g. Indochina) spilled over into socialist revolution.

5. A just war of national liberation fought by populations of the occupied countries of Europe, which would grow into socialist revolution (Yugoslavia and Albania) or open civil war (Greece, North Italy). In the European East, the old order collapsed under the dual, uneven pressure of popular aspirations and Soviet military-bureaucratic action, whereas in the West and South bourgeois order was restored - often against the wishes of the masses -by Western Allied troops.

....The politics of 'anti-fascist alliance', whatever the semantic meaning of the words involved, amounts in reality to systematic class collaboration: the political parties, and especially the Communist parties which maintained that the Western imperialist states were waging a just war against Nazism, ended by forming coalition governments after1945 wherein they actively participated in the reconstruction of the bourgeois state and the capitalist economy. In addition, this incorrect understanding of the character of Western states' intervention in the war led to a systematic betrayal of the colonial populations' anti-imperialist struggles, not to speak of the counterrevolution in Greece.

Reading notes on Chapters 1 and 2 of The meaning of the Second World War By Ernest Mandel [1986]

The meaning of the Second World War

By Ernest Mandel

Verso: 1986

Chapter 1 The Stakes

1876 and 1914

....creation of colonial empires following the international thrust of capital proved to be only a temporary answer to the problem of the growing disproportion between development of the productive forces and the political form within which this  development had taken place: the nation-state.1 Given the poverty and low growth rates of the colonies, their demand for manufactured goods was inherently limited; they were hardly a substitute for the lucrative markets to be found in the industrial countries themselves, whose systematic closure - via the high tariffs on imported goods and capital increasingly imposed by the end of the nineteenth century - accelerated the colonial drive.

....Germany.... assumed the industrial leadership of Europe and hence was in a position to challenge a colonial share-out favourable to Britain and France by force of arms.

....World War One in no way 'solved' the growing contradiction between economy and politics within the capitalist world.


....military and above all economic conflicts that dominated the twenties and thirties and paved the way to WWII, they did not create these problems - any more than 'reckless' planning by the Austrian, Russian, German or French general staffs caused WWI.

....the target of the Japanese war drive was China, the most populous country in the world. Japan's occupation of Manchuria in 1931, and the all-out war it unleashed against China in 1937, made armed conflict with the USA inevitable, since the latter was resolved at all costs to prevent the transformation of China into a Japanese colony or dependency. At a deeper level, the American-Japanese conflict was fueled by the grave economic crisis of 1929-32 in both countries. It flowed from the perception that a long-term solution involved a decisive break with economic isolationism (a shift from growth centered on the home market), and hence the need to achieve for oneself (or deny others) strategic insertion in the world market via hegemony over a substantial part of the world, as a  necessary step on the path to world dominance....

....the stake was the international hegemony of one imperialist  power, to be won and maintained by an active combination of military conquest or pressure and economic domination or plunder -  the exact mix depending on the relative strength or weakness of the individual contestants, deriving from such inner constraints as the  level of economic development and the character of political institutions.

....role which interimperialist wars have played in the internationalization of the capitalist economy and reduces them to the pursuit of - or a reaction to - violent conquest. But the most violent and murderous cases of imperialist aggression are expressions of relative weakness rather than strength. The imperialist conquest of the world is not only, or even mainly, a drive to occupy huge territories permanently with millions of soldiers. On the contrary, the motor of the Second World War was the major capitalist states' need to dominate the economy of whole continents through capital investment, preferential trade agreements, currency regulations and political hegemony. The aim of the war was the subordination not only of the less developed world, but also of other industrial states, whether enemies or allies, to one hegemonic power's priorities of capital accumulation.

....World hegemony, in other words, can be exercised only through a combination of military strength and economic superiority.

....inner logic of imperialism, which can be seen quite clearly in the planning councils of the warring states. Oil, rubber, copper, nickel, tin, manganese, iron ore, cotton, etc. had to be secured; sea-lanes had to be kept open to ship these home; workers and forced labour had to be mobilized, housed and fed; exports had to be expanded and foisted upon reluctant clients; foreign competitors had to be dragooned into partnerships or simply absorbed; opponent's exports had to be cut and their populations starved. The war indeed showed itself to be nothing but the continuation of politics by other means.

....In the world organised by capital based on nation-states, war is the mechanism for the final resolution of differences.

....In the final analysis, imperialist expansion expresses an insatiable thirst for surplus value, its production and realization - the snowball dynamic of capital accumulation. But qualitatively increased surplus-value production is possible only through a specific relationship with wage labour, a subordination of the working class to capital. Hence a strategic integration of the working class in the metropolitan centres is a necessary component of the imperialist countries' ability to pursue the struggle for world dominance. The world that emerged from the 1914-1918 war was at least partially shaped by the unprecedented rise in working class self-organization and self-confidence, especially in Europe but also in the USA, during the quarter century that preceded it. The attitude of the working class to imperialist wars was therefore of importance not only to the ruling classes, but also to the future of the working class itself. is also a history of counter-revolution. By 1939 the record of this counter-revolutionary consolidation was promising but uneven. The fate and evolution of the Soviet Union was particularly crucial. The revolutionary upheavals following WWI had been strong enough to prevent the restoration of capitalism in erstwhile Imperial Russia. But the fact that they produced no new victories gravely weakened the Soviet working class: the Soviet republic had survived, but in a greatly distorted form. This in turn contributed to the impotence of the European working class in the inter-war period.

....A downturn of revolution gave the green light for a new onslaught against the labour movement as soon as the crisis demanded this. The stepping-stones towards World War Two were Chiang Kai-Shek's massacre of Communist and other labour militants in Shanghai in 1927; the rise of fascism in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s; the defeat of the Spanish republic; the collapse of the Popular Front in France. The failure of the British General Strike and the stranglehold imposed by the CIO bureaucracy upon the rising militancy of the American working class likewise played far from marginal roles in preparing the new conflict.

....real stake of WWII was the establishment of the world hegemony of one imperialist power, and that the war was also the culmination of a process of counter-revolution, should not, of course, be taken to refer solely to the particularly abhorrent role played by Hitler and German Nazism in bringing about a new world war. On the contrary, it represents a general judgement upon imperialism, as a specific form of capitalism generated by the fundamental contradiction between the internationalization and socialization of the productive process, on the one hand, and its continued organization by private and national interests, on the other….

Chapter 2 The Immediate Causes

....Trevor-Roper: 'In order to realise his ultimate aim, the restoration and extension of the lost German empire in the East, Hitler had always recognised that diplomacy could not be enough. Ultimately there must be war: war against Russia'.

....once the German army occupied Prague in March 1939. From that point onwards British imperialism (taking a reluctant French ally into tow) was determined to resist by force any further German expansion in Eastern Europe. Hitler knew this. But he did not want to forego the advance in modern weapons he still enjoyed for a couple of years. He deliberately risked war with Britain by attacking Poland on 1

....The responsibility of German imperialism in the outbreak and extension of the Second World War was overwhelming - in contrast to the situation in July-August 1914, when all the major powers more or less blundered into a world war

....German imperialism, did intend to create a new order in Europe - and this in turn made war inevitable.

....What is basically correct in [A.J.P.] Taylor's approach is his understanding that German imperialism was not intrinsically different from other imperialisms: all are stained by blood, treachery and odious crimes against humanity. But to recognize the fact that you live in a gangsters' world does not imply the conclusion that a specific crime is not committed by a particular gangster at a given moment. There cannot be the slightest doubt that German imperialism deliberately and brazenly unleashed the war against Poland, and therewith the Second World War, on 1 September1939. Whatever the responsibilities of the world capitalist system as a whole, and of the other imperialist powers, that particular act was the work of the German ruling class led by the Fuhrer and his military henchmen.

....[French] demoralization corresponded to a material reality and to specific social interests. France enjoyed political-military predominance on the European continent at the end of World War I. But that status in no way corresponded to the real economic balance of forces on that continent, let alone on a world scale. Neither French capital nor French industry could sustain armies in Western and Eastern Europe ready to crush any German attempt at regaining the upper hand. If anything, the disastrous financial and diplomatic consequences of Poincare's occupation of the Ruhr in 1923 only confirmed the total discrepancy between French diplomatic ambitions and economic power. Subsequent absence of political will was a result - and not a cause - of material weakness.

Furthermore, large sectors of the French ruling class were terrified by the potential strength of the French working class, exemplified by the general strike of June 1936. To eliminate the 'Communist danger' became an obsession with many of them, taking precedence over any international design. They increasingly viewed parliamentary democracy as an intolerable burden that prevented any effective elimination of trade-union strength. Laval was the embodiment of this outlook, which enjoyed large scale support inside parliament. Petain was widely deemed the ideal figure for a new order, even before the war had started. In a report sent to Rome by the Duce's main agent in Paris - Lavoni -and recently discovered in the Italian archives, Laval is reported as saying on 17 March 1938 that he was about to form a national government under Petain. When asked what would be the reaction of the Communists, he answered by making a gesture which could mean either putting the screws on them or breaking their necks.

Because of his tiny parliamentary majority, Paul Reynaud, when he became Prime Minister on 23 Mary 1940, included several conservative sympathizers with such projects in his Cabinet.19 Fear of a workers' uprising in Paris, even after the defeat of the September 1938 general strike, remained intense. 'Weygand and the others were afraid of a Commune in Paris', Admiral Darlan told Raymond Tournoux. This was the main motivation behind Weygand's desire to end the war at any price - one fully shared by Petain and Laval. 'If the morale of the Army was to be preserved and a revolutionary movement in Paris avoided, the government has to assert its will to remain in the capital at all costs, to keep control of the situation, even at the risk of being taken by the enemy. "The issue is one of internal order and dignity" declared Weygand.

.....Chamberlain's 'appeasement' was essentially a function of London's judgement of the time necessary to overcome Germany's lead in rearmament - Hitler having started in 1933, while British imperialism seriously began to rearm only three to four years later. In other words, it was an illusory and foolhardy attempt to outmaneuver Hitler, not an acceptance of a Europe dominated by Berlin. By contrast with the French bourgeoisie, the British ruling class was in no way demoralized or defeatist where the defence of Britain's world position - in the first place that of the British Empire itself - was at stake. The difference between its Chamberlain and Churchill wings was not one between those ready to capitulate before German imperialism and those who were not. It was a conflict over the most effective way to preserve the Empire and to oppose Hitler: now or later.

....Japanese imperialism was likewise engaged in a step-by-step conquest of China - while aiming at South East Asia as the next prize. From the point of view of the more radical imperialist circles in and around the Imperial Army, such a course did not necessarily imply an open conflict with Britain and certainly not with the USA. Indeed, the conquest of China increasingly appeared as a formidable undertaking - much more complicated, protracted and costly than the Japanese warlords had calculated. Here again the preferred variant was to have faits accomplis recognised by London and Washington, rather than to embark upon a simultaneous confrontation with China, Britain, the USA and possibly the USSR too.

....Tokyo's course was largely determined by overwhelming economic necessity. Before the war, Japan imported 66% of its oil from the USA. Ten million tons of the coke needed for its steel plants in China, all of the bauxite it needed for aircraft production, all the nickel for its weapons programme, all its tin and its rubber,60% of its copper and nearly all its industrial salts came to Japan from the outside. Virtually all these goods could be supplied from the Dutch East Indies, Indochina, Malaya, the Philippines or China.

....American imperialism considered a future conflict with Japan for hegemony over the Pacific-East Asia area (including China) as in the long run unavoidable. Under these circumstances, it would be foolish to let a future enemy first consolidate formidable conquests, allowing him to double, triple or quadruple his industrial, financial and military strength, and thus to enable him to unleash the final confrontation under conditions much worse for the USA than the current relationship of forces.

....American imperialism's determination to involve itself decisively in the redrafting of the international political order has to be considered as the third immediate cause of World War Two (the other two being Germany's and Japan's thrusts beyond their national borders). 

....US imperialism had at its disposal tremendous reserves of unemployed capital, productive capacity and manpower. The attempt to mobilize them via the New Deal ( orientation towards the internal market), while lifting economy and society out of their worst crisis, was to a large extent a failure. In 1938, there were again twelve million unemployed. The turn towards the world market became imperative. Capital had to be invested and lent abroad. Goods had to be sold abroad, to qualitatively larger extent than before 1929 or between 1933and1939 (as indeed they would be after 1945).22 But first the world had to be made safe for such giant capital and commodity exports. was hoped that Japan's initial successes, coupled with those of her ally Germany, would influence Washington to seek a compromise peace that would give her as table and secure sphere of influence in East and South Asia. Washington, however, was dead set against any recognition of something that might lead to Japanese hegemony in Asia

....The very isolation of the Soviet Republic, and the internal convulsions which it generated had given free rein to inter-imperialist struggles, so that the opening of the Eastern Front primarily derived from the desire of German imperialism to strengthen its hand vis a vis its Western competitors. Within the USSR itself an explosive contradiction appeared between the strengthening of the USSR's industrial and military infrastructure under the Five Year Plan on the one hand, and the grave political crisis into which Stalin's purges and his reckless diplomatic game plunged the country, on the other. The second process decapitated the Red Army, disorganized the defences of the country, delivered Poland and Europe to Hitler, and facilitated the Nazi attack on the USSR.

....that Germany was a potential enemy was firmly suppressed at the important chiefs of staff war study conference of December 1940, as was any notion of the possibility of war in the near future. The training plans released after the conference were therefore not the product of any in-depth study of the state and needs of the army, nor did they form part of any coherent war plan. The 'State Frontier Defence Plan 1941', which the General Staff released in April 1941, and with which the Soviet Union entered the war two months later, committed the Red Army to defend the forward frontiers of the Soviet Union and paid minimal attention to strategic defence.

....Stalin gave the green light to Hitler's aggression, temporarily saving the Third Reich from the nightmare of a prolonged war on two fronts. Russian historiography continues to deny this - by keeping silent about the secret protocol of 27 August 1939. Likewise, it draws a veil over Stalin's formal opposition to the survival of any Polish state.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Jewish Question: History of a Marxist Debate By Enzo Traverso

Traverso's version of Marxism never rises above the level of caricature and academic kitsch.  

Neither Marx, Lenin, Engels, or Trotsky ever promoted the idea of linearity or inevitability in history in general or in the contemporary class struggle. They were conscious polemical opponents of such ideas; at their best, so were Kautsky, Labriola, and Plekhanov, not to mention Mandel and George Novack. 

Traverso, for a "man of the left," seems to be satisfied with a knowledge of Marxism obtained second-hand, not from the works of the movement's founders and leaders.  

To tackle subjects of the scope Traverso undertakes, this is simply not good enough.

My reading notes are here.

Reading notes on Conclusion of The Jewish Question: History of a Marxist Debate By Enzo Traverso

By Enzo Traverso 
Translated by Bernard Gibbons
Brill, [2018]

The below are my underlinings/highlightings of Traverso. My own thoughts appear, if at all, as [N.B.].


....Classical Marxism was incapable of comprehending the nature of anti-Semitism, or of recognising the Jewish aspiration to a distinct separate identity. Actually, it shared this misconception with all intellectual and political currents that belonged to the tradition of Enlightenment, from democratic liberalism to Zionism.

....The movement founded by Theodor Herzl succeeded in colonising Palestine and, after the war, in building a state there, thus creating a Palestinian national question.

....The Judeo-Marxists (Medem, Borokhov) saw the national dimension of the Jewish Question in the Tsarist Empire; Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg, Abram Leon, and the philosophers of the Frankfurt School (Horkheimer) came to consider anti-Semitism as an eminently modern phenomenon, no longer a feudal residue but a manifestation of backward capitalism, rooted both 'in objective social relations and in the consciousness and unconsciousness of the masses'.1 This fundamental cleavage separated the partisans of assimilation (Bauer, Kautsky, Lenin, Leon) from those who recognised the national character of the Jews of Eastern Europe (Medem, Borokhov). The latter, in their turn, were divided between the defenders of national autonomy in the Diaspora and the builders of a Jewish state in Palestine. 

....As Isaac Deutscher observed: 'As Marxists, we tried theoretically to deny that the Jewish labor movement had an identity of its own, but it had it all the same. It was quite obvious that in that Jewish labor movement the intellectual found his role and did not have to go to the trouble of defining it. From the Jewish working class in Eastern Europe came the efflorescence of Yiddish literature.'

....The Jewish Question reveals the blindness of Marxism to the significance of both religion and the nation in modern world. 

[N.B.  I think Traverso here confuses "blindness" as an abstract category with class clarity. JR]

..... In the wake of the radical Enlightenment, Marxist thinkers perceived religion as synonymous with obscurantism and as an instrument for the enslavement of the oppressed. The subversive potentialities of faith, the 'hot currents' of religious thought (Ernst Bloch), completely escaped those Marxists who interpreted Jewish history. Almost nobody, in this debate, saw Judaism as the indispensable ally of materialism in the chess game of history (to employ Benjamin's image).

....Marxists were haunted by the search for an 'objective' – sometimes normative – definition of the national phenomenon: they located the constitutive elements of the nation in the economy, language, territory, and so on, often forgetting to take into account its subjective dimension, that is the consciousness a group possesses of forming a community of culture, united by a collective destiny.

[N.B. Every shortxcoming of Marxism Traverso outlines is a failing on the side of class clarity and scientific socialist conclusions.  He objects to unmuddied waters where subjectivism is given its property label and not elevated to the level of a cardinal empirical virtue.JR]

....Jewish Question also reveals a blindness of classical Marxism toward forms of domination not directly related to the class structure of society, such as national, but also racial and gender oppression. 

..... In the pages of the Viennese Arbeiterzeitung, an extremely ambiguous attitude to the Jewish Question (refusal to struggle against anti-Semitism, denunciation of the 'Judaised' finance and press) was often accompanied by an outright condemnation of homosexuality, which led Karl Kraus to conclude that the word 'comrade' ( Genosse) could certainly not derive from the verb 'to enjoy'

..... Russian Marxists offered a rigid choice to national minorities – self-determination (state separation) or assimilation –
     which often transformed the struggle for equality into the attempt to transcend all national difference. Indeed, the entire Jewish culture of Eastern Europe at the turn of the century – from politics (Medem, Zhitlovsky) to history (Dubnov), from sociology (Lestschinsky) to literature (Peretz, Aleichem, Asch) to painting (Chagall) – was the affirmation of a Jewish identity in the Diaspora. 

....There is something profoundly Jewish in the fate of Trotsky (Lev Davidovitch Bronstein), who wrote all his great works in exile and was condemned to a permanent wandering because of his political stance: but, as Hans Meyer has pointed out, he lived his whole life as 'comrade Shylock' without ever being conscious of it.

....Marxist debate on the Jewish Question shows the tragic illusions of a teleological vision of history. Behind the Marxist conception of assimilation and anti-Semitism, there was an idea of progress in which history was envisaged as a linear development, an inevitable improvement of humanity, the evolution of society following natural laws and the development of the productive forces under capitalism growing inevitably closer to the advent of the socialist order....

[N.B.  Again, Traverso's version of Marxism never rises above the level of caricature and academic kitsch.  Neither Marx, Lenin, Engels, or Trotsky ever promoted the idea of linearity or inevitability in history in general or in the contemporary class struggle. They were conscious polemical opponents of such ideas; at their best, so were Kautsky, Labriola, and Plekhanov, not to mention Mandel and George Novack.  Traverso, for a "man of the left," seems to be satisfied with a knowledge of Marxism obtained second-hand, not from the Marxist works of the movement's founders and leaders. To tackle subjects of the scope Traverso undertakes, this is simply not good enough! JR].

Reading notes on Chapter 10 of The Jewish Question: History of a Marxist Debate By Enzo Traverso

The Jewish Question: History of a Marxist Debate 

By Enzo Traverso 

Translated by Bernard Gibbons

Brill, [2018]

The below are my underlinings/highlightings of Traverso. My own thoughts appear, if at all, as [N.B.].


Chapter 10: Post-war Marxism and the Holocaust

....lack of a Marxist debate on the causes, forms and consequences of the destruction of the European Jews 

....During the 1940s and 1950s Marxism became an essential component of anti-fascist culture, in which the Jewish tragedy was reduced to a marginal aspect of the gigantic conflict that had ravaged Europe. 

[N.B. For Traverso's 'anti-fascist culture,' read Stalinist/Eurocommunist "culture." . JR]

....Shortly after the war other philosophers affiliated with the Institute for Social Research or situated at its periphery, such as Leo Löwenthal, Herbert Marcuse and Gunther Anders, made Auschwitz the starting point for their critique of modern civilization. 

....Frankfurt School Marxism (and notably its radical version represented by Gunther Anders, the most interesting of its 'fellow travellers') seemed to take on a more and more antiuto-pian dimension. Ultimately, it based itself on a paradigm that we could call, at the antipodes from Ernst Bloch, the 'principle of despair' ( das Prinzip Verzweiflung). Anders replaced Ernst Bloch's ontology of the not yet (Noch-Nicht-Sein) with an anti-Utopia of waiting for annihilation ( noch-nicht-Nichtsein), which turned him into a kind of Heideggerian Marxist.5 Its radical critique of civilisation went together with an attitude of despair, scepticism and a tragic feeling of impotence (to the point of opposing student protest movements, as Adorno and Horkheimer would do in 1968).

1 The Frankfurt School

....effort to rethink history in the wake of Auschwitz was undertaken by Adorno and Horkheimer towards the end of the war in their Dialectic of Enlightenment. 

..... The Final Solution is presented there as the paradigm of a barbarism towards which the whole trajectory of Western civilisation, characterised as a process of the 'self-destruction of Enlightenment' ( Selbstzerstörung der Aufklärung), has converged. turn upside down the positivist vision of a long, linear, automatic human development towards progress, seeing in National Socialism the terminus of the Western world's course. Auschwitz unveils the destructive dimension of Aufklärung, which has now revealed itself in place of Hegel's Absolute Spirit to be the true content of history.

[N.B. Needless to say, such generalizations are completely anti-Marxist and promote both intellectual obscurantism and surrender/atomization. JR]

2: Ernest Mandel

....Mandel's work undoubtedly contains the most coherent attempt to interpret the Jewish genocide in the light of classical Marxism, and in this way developed further Trotsky's approach. 

....Mandel, by contrast, developed a critical theory of society that was inseparable from a political project that located its subject in the exploited classes. His Marxism was utopian, generous and constantly on the look-out for turning points or 'bifurcations' in history that might be transformed into revolutionary breaks. Mandel reached his zenith as a political thinker in the period after May 1968. The neoliberal outcome of the 1989–91

     crisis of the Soviet bloc failed to break his spirit. His trajectory was thus very much distinct from that of Adorno and Anders. The only element that they shared despite everything was a rejection of Stalinism. 

....In his opinion, the absurdity of the tragedy was only a surface appearance, since it was the product of 'a world in torment'. Although any explanation seemed 'to fall short of the full horror of the reality' in the face of the ghettos, mass executions, gas chambers and ovens, he warned against the temptation of seeing it as 'a sudden, unique catastrophe' in history. True, the Jews had been 'hit harder than any other people', but it must not be forgotten that their destruction took place  at a time when the whole human race had nearly fallen into a bottomless pit. 

...During the decades that separated his first 1946 text from the rest, he devoted several studies to the problem of fascism, but without paying any particular attention to its anti-Semitic dimension.

....scholarly and public discussion on the historical singularity of the Holocaust took place in Western Germany only in the 1980s

..... In his writings in this last period, Mandel did not hesitate to recognise the uniqueness of the Jewish genocide. The 'deliberate and systematic killing of six million men, women and children simply because of their ethnic origin', he wrote, can only be understood as a 'unique' event in history – though this does not mean that we cannot explain it, still less that we cannot compare it with others.

....uniqueness of the Jewish genocide, therefore, did not consist in the Nazis' greater inhumanity when compared with their European forbears, nor in the specific nature of their anti-Semitism.

....One of the basic texts of Nazi anti-Semitic politics, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which vulgarised the myth of an international Jewish conspiracy, was of Russian origin.

[N.B. The Protocols as a "vulgarization" of an anti-Semitic trope is a peculiar - to be generous - formulation.  Is Traverso concerned it is vulgar because he thinks Jew-haters should seek to raise the level of their discourse?  In seriousness, this is a perfect example of the sloppy pretzel of anti-Marxist left rhetoric Traverso employs to explain/obscure his subject. JR]

....Mandel rejected the mystical cult of the Holocaust. The Jewish genocide must be treated historically; its specificity can only be seen clearly on the basis of an analytical approach of a comparative type. In this perspective, this crime seems much less like the outcome of age-old Judeophobia than as a paroxysm resulting from the modern violence deployed by imperialism against peoples judged to be 'inferior', 'subhuman' or inassimilable. In The Meaning of the Second World War Mandel wrote: Traditional semi-feudal and petty-bourgeois anti-Semitism led to pogroms, which were to the Nazi murderers what knives are to the atom bomb. The seeds of the gas chambers resided in the mass enslavement and killing of Blacks via the slave trade, in the wholesale extermination of the Central and South American Indians by the conquistadors. In such cases, the term genocide is fully justified …

    The unique character of the destruction of the Jews was not linked to the nature of the Nazis' anti-Semitic hatred, which was not qualitatively different from other forms of racism that were very widespread at the time inside as well as outside Germany. 

..... He articulated contingencies and long-term tendencies, linked military strategies to their economic bases and to the extraordinary technological changes engendered by the war, and finally connected the ideologies of its actors with the great cleavages of modernity: Enlightenment versus counter-Enlightenment, emancipation against imperialism, socialism or barbarism. In his vision, the Second World War was a plurality of intertwined conflicts: a war between great powers for international hegemony, a defensive war of the USSR against Nazi aggression, a liberation war of the European countries occupied by the Axis forces, a civil war between anti-fascism and collaborationism, and a war of the colonised countries against imperialism that in China turned into a socialist revolution. Analysing the different but correlated dimensions of this war, Mandel analyzed the Nazi violence and the atomic bomb, pointing out both their similarities and their discrepancies, and connecting them with the legacy of Western imperialism and racism. He depicted the historical background of the Holocaust, but his analysis remained as general and abstract as Horkheimer's and Adorno's diagnosis of the 'self-destruction of Enlightenment'. 

....Auschwitz and Hiroshima were not products of technology but of relationships of social forces – in other words, they were the (provisional) terminus of the great historical defeats of the international proletariat after 1917

....During a colloquium held in Salzburg in 1990, Mandel cited Ernst Bloch in order to explain the 'non-synchronism' or 'non-contemporaneity' ( Ungleichzeitigkeit) of ideology and society under the Third Reich, a regime characterised by 'thirteenth-century survivals in the middle of the twentieth century'. This vision was entirely consistent with Trotsky's approach, in which Nazism represented a form (to use Norman Geras's particularly illuminating definition) of 'undigested barbarism'.

3: Capitalism and the Holocaust

....Inscribed into the logic of reactionary modernism – a conservative revolt against modernity that used the destructive means offered by modernity itself as an attempt to incorporate Zivilisation into Kultur – the Holocaust can be analysed through Marx's categories. Moishe Postone has acutely observed that the features generally attributed to the Jews by modern anti-Semitism – abstract-ness, intellectualism, extraterritoriality, mobility, universalism, etc. – perfectly correspond to 'the value dimension of the social forms analyzed by Marx'.

....Postone explains The Jews were not seen merely as representatives of capital (in which case anti-Semitic attacks would have been much more class-specific). They became the personifications of the intangible, destructive, immensely powerful, and international domination of capital as a social form. 

....The 'anti capitalist' revolt was, consequently, also the revolt against the Jews. The overcoming of capitalism and its negative social effects became associated with the overcoming of the Jews.49

     This analysis inspired by Capital's theory of commodity fetishism is probably the most interesting and convincing attempt to elaborate a Marxist interpretation of Nazi anti-Semitism, but Mandel was probably too marked by his concrete experience of war and deportation to think of National Socialism as a form of abstract anti-capitalism. 

....Mandel grasped a fatal interconnection at the heart of the Final Solution between racism and industrial modernity, between capitalism's partial rationality and overall irrationality, but he could not admit that this genocide was determined 'in the final analysis' by ideology, despite the material interests (and military priorities) of German imperialism. For him this meant making too big a concession to the idea of the 'primacy of politics' in the history of the Third Reich (an idea for which he had already criticised the historian Tim Mason)56 and stretching the axioms of historical materialism to an excessive degree. In fact the 'counter-rationality' of the extermination of the Jews and of the Gypsies constitutes a challenge for any historical account of Nazism.

[N.B. This is Traverso's collapse into resigned incomprehension of historical events, not Mandel's. JR]

....The vision of the Holocaust as a function of the class interests of big German capital – this is the interpretive criterion 'in the final analysis' of all Marxist theories of fascism – is not defensible.58 Trapped in this dead end, East German historians – not always ideologues; sometimes genuine historians – enclosed a complex reality inside pre-established categories. This approach was bound to end up both making the Jewish genocide banal and discrediting Marxism itself by reducing it to a form of economic determinism.59 Despite his affirmed anti-dogmatism, Mandel did not avoid a certain oversimplification of reality and even arrogance. The survivors, even those as stubbornly rationalistic as Jean Améry and Primo Levi, were suspicious of this kind of reductionist analysis. In Améry's eyes, 'all the attempts at economic explanations, all the one-dimensional interpretations that claim that German industrial capital, fearing for its privileges, financed Hitler, are absolutely meaningless for an eyewitness'. Despite his desire to 'make clear' ( erklären) his experience, Auschwitz remains for him 'a dark riddle' ( ein finisteres Rätsel).

....Mandel pertinently dismissed as obscurantist a view of the Jewish genocide as by definition an incomprehensible, inexplicable and indescribable event (in the style of Elie Wiesel or Claude Lanzmann), but that does not make his own explanation any more satisfactory….