The Third International after Lenin

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Left turns of the "socialism of fools"

One of the strangest expressions of a rightward stampede in bourgeois politics in the last few decades is a return, in the last ten years, to Jew-hating and Jew-baiting among middle class radicals.  In 2006 The Militant newspaper carried a series of articles which traced and diagnosed the trend.  A current controversy around the book The Wandering Who? by Gilad Atzmon recalled the articles to mind.  I think they are well-worth reviewing here.
On May 1, 2006  Sam Manuel wrote:
A highly publicized paper by Harvard University dean Stephen Walt and University of Chicago political science professor John Mearsheimer peddles the false and reactionary theory that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is manipulated by a pro-Israel lobby.

An article by prominent radical academic James Petras claims that the Israeli government controls U.S. foreign policy through an influential group of Jewish "Zioncons" and through hundreds of Israeli spies who have supposedly penetrated "the highest spheres of the U.S. government."

The two recent articles present the argument of many liberal and middle-class critics of the Bush administration—also promoted by some rightists—that U.S. foreign policy has been hijacked by a group of "neocons," described by some of these forces as a "Jewish cabal."

This is the last in a series of articles on the first major shift in U.S. foreign policy since World War II. The first article explained the origins of the U.S. government's policy of "containment" of the Soviet bloc and its allies during the last half of the 20th century (see "Why was Cold War perceived as 'cold'?" in the April 17 issue). The second article described the end of the so-called "peace dividend" and Washington's slowness in recognizing the new situation it faced resulting from the end of the Cold War (see "How the 'peace dividend' ended" in the April 24 issue).

As these previous articles have outlined, the U.S. government is carrying out the most far-reaching shift in military strategy and organization since the second world imperialist war. With the end of the Cold War, the U.S. rulers are compelled to take steps to confront sharper competition from their imperialist rivals and prepare to take on more directly the resistance by workers and farmers to the effects of the deepening world capitalist crisis. Under the banner of the "global war on terrorism," they are transforming the U.S. armed forces into a lighter, more mobile military better suited to fight the kinds of wars U.S. imperialism will have to pursue around the world.

No wing of the Democrats or Republicans has offered an alternative to this bipartisan foreign policy course. The tone of bourgeois politics in the United States, however, has become more shrill and intense. This growing factionalism among capitalist politicians is a result of the frustration by the U.S. rulers about their vulnerability in face of a future of sharpening economic crises, wars, and uncontrollable forces set in motion by these changes.  

'Neocons' responsible for Iraq war?
In this context some liberal Democratic politicians and commentators, in attacking their Republican rivals, resort to the false and misleading charge that a secretive "neoconservative" group is shaping U.S. foreign policy and betraying "American interests." These assertions obscure the fact that U.S. foreign policy is bipartisan, that the Bush administration is acting on behalf of the U.S. ruling class, and that this policy does serve their class interests.

In a typical commentary, Newark Star-Ledger columnist John Farmer decries "the neoconservatives around Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld who, with Vice President Dick Cheney as their enabler, authored the misadventure in Iraq." He identifies former deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz, former undersecretary of defense Douglas Feith, and former Pentagon advisor Richard Perle as among these.

In their 83-page paper titled "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," Harvard dean Walt and University of Chicago professor Mearsheimer marshal their arguments to contend that "the overall thrust of U.S. policy in the [Mideast] region is due almost entirely to U.S. domestic politics, and especially to the activities of the 'Israel Lobby.'" They add that "the unmatched power of the Israel Lobby" has made Washington pursue policies beneficial to the Israeli government but not to "the American national interest."

They argue that "the core of the Lobby is comprised of American Jews" who seek "to bend U.S. foreign policy so that it advances Israel's interests," together with "neoconservative gentiles." According to them, the so-called lobby not only includes Bush administration officials such as Wolfowitz and Feith, but that it controls the editorial boards of newspapers such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal and has decisive influence in the Brookings Institution, American Enterprise Institute, and other major think tanks.

Walt and Mearsheimer claim the "Israel lobby" and "neoconservatives" were the driving force behind the 2003 U.S. invasion in Iraq. "The Bush administration's ambitious strategy to transform the Middle East—beginning with the invasion of Iraq—is at least partly intended to improve Israel's strategic situation," they assert.  

Anti-Semitic arguments
The article by James Petras, entitled "The Tyranny of Israel Over America," churns out the same argument and reeks with the same anti-Semitism and American nationalism. The only difference is that Petras has long portrayed himself as a socialist and anti-imperialist.

Petras quotes anonymous FBI "sources" to claim "large-scale deep penetration of American society and the government by Israeli spies and their collaborators" who fed "disinformation" to the U.S. government to persuade Washington to launch the war against Iraq. He too attributes U.S. foreign policy to the influence of "Feith, Wolfowitz, Perle, and other Zioncons closely identified with Israeli intelligence."

Petras describes the invasion of Iraq as a war "in the service of Israel" that went against "U.S. good sense and national interest."

Not surprisingly, Walt's "research" paper won hearty applause from ultrarightist David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader. On his web site, he praised the Harvard dean for revealing "how these Jewish extremists have manipulated American policy against the clear interests of the American people."  

Who sets U.S. foreign policy?
These assertions about "neoconservative" and even "Jewish" control over Washington's policies in the Mideast are fraudulent and reactionary. First, the leading figures in the alleged "neocon conspiracy" such as Wolfowitz and Feith, are no longer in the Bush administration. Second, none of the central officials responsible for Washington's policy in Iraq—Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld—are Jewish.

Last week's article noted that, while William Kristol's Weekly Standard and other so-called neoconservatives were among those who in 1997-98 began to campaign for taking steps to overthrow the Saddam Hussein government, this course toward "regime change" predominated among most in the ruling class and became official policy under the Clinton administration.

The conspiracy theories, including the Jew-hating varieties, let the U.S. capitalists off the hook while promoting American nationalism. U.S. imperialism's foreign policy, far from being hijacked by some isolated group, is controlled by and represents the interests of a class: the wealthy billionaire families who rule the United States, including both their parties, the Democrats and Republicans.  


 Manuel followed up the article on May 15, 2006 with this:
Editors of the London Review of Books are standing by their decision to publish a paper by Harvard academic dean Stephen Walt and University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer, entitled The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. The paper promotes the false and reactionary theory that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is manipulated by a Jewish lobby with support from a network of "neoconservative gentiles."

A March 30 article by James Petras, a professor at the State University of New York at Binghamton, tries to provide an "analysis" of why this is the case, by claiming that Jews are disproportionately represented among finance capitalists resulting in an equally disproportionate Jewish influence over U.S. foreign policy. The article is posted on the antiwar website Petras is looked to by many on the left in the United States and Latin America as a socialist.

Others on the left have endorsed these views. In a column in the April 24 Nation, Perry Anderson, editor of the New Left Review and history professor at University of California, Los Angeles, praised the Walt/Mearsheimer paper. He called it a "genuinely critical reflection on American foreign policy, from thinkers who have earned the title 'realist.'"

The conspiracy theories peddled in Petras's article and the Harvard paper, and backed by others on the left, leave the U.S. capitalist class and the profit system off the hook as the root cause of the devastating conditions imposed on working people worldwide. At the same time these "theories" fan the flames of Jew-hatred and American nationalism. So far the U.S. left—from the Communist Party USA to the Workers World Party—has been silent on this issue.

The 83-page paper by Walt and Mearsheimer argues that the unmatched power of the "Israel Lobby" leads the U.S. government to subordinate "American national interests" to those of Israel. According to the document, this lobby has the backing of pro-Israel neoconservative politicians like former deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz and former Pentagon adviser Richard Perle. Walt and Mearsheimer claim that the Israel Lobby also controls the editorial boards of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and holds the leading position in several foreign policy research institutes, among them the Brookings Institution. The Militant already analyzed the implications of this tract in the article, "The myth of the 'neoconservative' and 'Israel Lobby' conspiracy: How U.S. foreign policy shifted after Cold War," in its May 1 issue.  

'London Review of Books'
An edited version of the Harvard paper appeared in the March 23 London Review of Books. Despite receiving what they describe as "a great many letters" criticizing its publication, some of which they reproduced, the editors of the literary journal said in the April 20 issue they stand by their decision to publish it. They also announced they will run a reply by Walt and Mearsheimer to the letters in the magazine's next issue.

The magazine's editors also noted that some of the letters congratulating the authors of the paper are of an "anti-Semitic nature." One of them applauded Walt and Mearsheimer for having exposed a "secret Jewish conspiracy," and its author felt the need to spell it "JEWISH conspiracy." Nonetheless they asserted that what the letters supporting and opposing the article have in common is that they "come from people who appear not to have read the piece, and who seem incapable of distinguishing between criticism of Israeli or U.S. government policy and anti-Semitism."

One of the letters was from Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz. Among other points, he took exception to two of the paper's central arguments—the United States has become a target of "terrorism" because of its support for Israel and that Washington and Tel Aviv have different, if not conflicting, interests in the Middle East.

"In fact bin Laden was primarily motivated by the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia," Dershowitz writes. He is referring to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden who along with the leader of other Islamic jihadist movements say their goal is to overthrow "apostate" regimes and establish Islamic states in majority Arab countries. For bin Laden and these groups, the rulers of Saudi Arabia are "infidels" controlling and profaning the holy sites of Islam.

Another letter came from Robert Pfaltzgraff of the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis. The institution was one of many "think tanks" at which Walt and Mearsheimer claim the Israel Lobby has a "commanding presence." Pfaltzgraff wrote that "to the extent that such studies support Israel or any other states in the region, this is the result of an independent analysis of US needs and interests."  

'Jewish bankers'
In his article Petras comes to the defense of Walt and Mearsheimer. He denounces the "virulent" campaign against the professors' "well documented" paper as another example of the "growing tyranny of the pro-Israel minority over our civil liberties."

He then goes on to assert that a "a significant affluent minority of prominent Jewish banking and real estate millionaires are active in financing and promoting Israeli policy either directly or through pro-Israel lobbies."

Petras even infers a connection between alleged Jewish prominence in the garment industry—as owners and union "bosses"—and the decline in wages and union membership for garment workers. "No doubt the ethnic-class differences between the six-figure salaried Jewish labor bosses and the low paid Asian and Latino workers and the common class-ethnic positions of the labor bosses and the manufacturers facilitated these failed policies," he says.  

No blood for Jews?
"The Jewish and Gentile critics of the war deliberately exclude the role of the minority of wealthy Jews and their political lobbies in shaping U.S. policy in the Middle East by focusing on the U.S. and overseas oil companies ('No blood for oil!')," Petras writes. "Jewish lobbies," he adds, "were far more pro-war than the oil industry."
The dangerous logic of such arguments peddling Jew hatred (to say "anti-Semitism" would be putting it mildly) should not be lost on working people. Such conspiracy theories have been the stock-in-trade of ultrarightists and fascists—mortal enemies of the working class and its allies. Petras's arguments also point to the political evolution of many middle-class "socialists" like him. The banner of opponents of the imperialist war against Iraq in 1990-91 was "No blood for oil!" Now, Petras says, it should be changed to "No blood for Israel!" or, by implication, to "No blood for Jews."  

The articles Manuel wrote got some skeptical reader responses, which provided an opportunity for some unexampled pedagogical writing on July 3, 2006:
In a letter published in the column below, reader Anna Fierling takes exception to the article "More middle-class radicals promote Jew-hatred" (May 15 Militant). "Your efforts to portray the entire middle-class Left as 'anti-Semitic' (or worse) are unpersuasive," she says. The author of the article "should have availed himself of a wider selection of literature from the liberal/radical Left."

The article in the May 15 issue showed that the paper by Harvard academic dean Stephen Walt and University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer, entitled "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," promotes "the false and reactionary theory that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is manipulated by a Jewish lobby with support from a network of 'neoconservative gentiles.'" It also noted that others, like the editors of the London Review of Books, a biweekly oriented to the bourgeois left; Perry Anderson, editor of the New Left Review; and left-wing academic James Petras, who is widely published here and in Latin America, have endorsed this view.

What Walt and Mearsheimer presented is little more than repackaging, with some academic gloss, of the longtime "amen corner" analysis of ultrarightist Patrick Buchanan. During the U.S. military buildup for the 1991 Gulf War, Buchanan said on the McLaughlin Group TV news program that "there are only two groups that are beating the drums for war in the Middle East—the Israeli defense ministry and its 'amen corner' in the United States."

Petras outlined a similar view, only more starkly, earlier this year in an article headlined "The Tyranny of Israel over America," written for and reprinted in the Spanish-language daily Granma in Havana. "The onset and immediate aftermath of the Iraqi war and the subsequent occupation was the highpoint of Israeli tyranny over Washington," he said. In the May 15 article we pointed out that Petras expressed views bordering on Jew-hatred.  

A wider selection of views in middle-class left
Now let's do what Fierling suggests, take a look at a wider selection of views on the matter among the middle-class left.

The Communist Party USA tries to have it both ways with regard to the Walt/Mearsheimer paper. An article by Susan Webb in the May 25 issue of the People's Weekly World, which reflects the views of the CPUSA, praises the paper for helping to "open up mainstream discussion" on the Bush administration's policies in the Middle East (meaning discussion to help elect a Democratic majority in this year's U.S. congressional elections and a Democratic White House in 2008). Referring to "well-financed right-wing Jewish groups," Webb says, "The power these groups exercise in U.S. political life, including in electing or defeating candidates, has been written about and documented in progressive publications." At the same time, Webb adds that "loose characterizations" of these organizations by Walt and Mearsheimer "have an unpleasant ring for many Jewish readers."

An article in the May 19 issue of the Socialist Worker, which reflects the views of the International Socialist Organization, talks about "defending Mearsheimer and Walt's description of the Israel lobby from Israel boosters," while offering a friendly critique on a number of points.

An article in the April 8 issue of In These Times by Salim Muwakkil, a senior editor of the social-democratic publication, says the "furious response from critics" of the Walt/Mearsheimer article is "an eerie confirmation of the paper's point" on the domination of U.S. foreign policy by the "Israel Lobby."

And the June 9 issue of CounterPunch, self-described as "America's Best Political Newsletter" and edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St.Clair, says the following in advertising an article on the subject: "Read how U.S. presidents from Wilson, through FDR to Truman were manipulated by the Zionist lobby; how Israel bent LBJ, Reagan and Clinton to its purpose; how Bush's White House has been the West Wing of the Israeli government; how Washington's revolving doors send full-time Israeli lobbyists from think-tanks to the National Security Council and the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans."

Even Noam Chomsky who criticizes Walt and Mearsheimer in his article "The Israel Lobby?" tips his hat to his academic colleagues for taking a "courageous" though not a very convincing stand.

Space is the only limitation in citing more such quotations. The main thing these individuals and groups do is not promoting anti-Semitism, which many do, even if willy-nilly. They all try to slide around the reality that the U.S. imperialist bourgeoisie is advancing its own interests in the Middle East, regardless of Tel Aviv's interests. They try to skirt the fact that working people have to overthrow the rule of this capitalist class and replace it with a government of workers and farmers in order to end war and national oppression of Palestinians or any other peoples.  

Anti-semitism and Jew-hatred
One final point. Reader Debbie Delange asks for clarification on the use of "anti-Semitism" versus "Jew-hatred." Anti-Semitism is a milder and more ambiguous term. Original usage of the term "Semites" encompassed a wider range of people beyond Jews, including Arabs and Assyrians whose languages have roots in a common Semitic tongue. Jew-hatred is unambiguous. It more clearly illustrates the danger for working people of views promoted by "socialists" like Petras who dovetail the views of incipient fascist politicians such as Buchanan.  

Anti-semitism, or as The Militant more correctly and concretely calls it, "Jew hatred,"  is an extremely reliable barometer of social crisis.  Anti-semitism of a very coarse Rotarian or Babbitistic variety always finds a home in right-wing politics;  indeed, the "socialism of fools" is the only pseudo-scientific means the right has to explain economic crises and culture wars to pauperized and immiserated petty bourgeois producers: family farmers, the sainted "entrepreneur", salesmen, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals and independent commodity producers.  The smirking hatred of a T.S. Eliot and the athletic, almost carnal approach of an Ezra Pound, are hallmarks of such sewage.  Resort to the tropes and eye-winking rhetoric of Jew-hatred among middle class radicals has a very specific meaning quite different than this, which I think is the point Sam Manuel was pointing readers at. In periods of working class retreat, in which the revolutionary socialist vanguard is marginalized and gets very little hearing, nostrums from the dark ages of class society start to get some traction among atomized middle class layers on the "left", too.  Their Jew-hating explanations for social crises are usually half-hidden in initial stages.  This "half-hiddenness" is obviously one of the motivations for The Militant following the question so closely, and intervening so energetically with readers.  Jews have been a scapegoat people for the ills, crimes, and miseries of society since the very earliest stages of capitalism in Fourteenth and Fifteenth Century Europe.  But the scapegoating takes on many forms today among radicals seeking an explanation for current crises: forms include attacks on "neocons" as architects of the Iraq war, or the "Zionist Lobby" as the source of Washington's support for Israel. 
In 2009 U.S. Socialist Workers Party leader Norton Sandler was quoted in The Militant stating:  "There is no Zionist movement today. The reality is, it has become an epithet, not a scientific description; a synonym for 'Jew' that helps fuel Jew-hatred."   A murder at the vicar's tea party could not have caused more uproar in the insular world of the U.S. left.  Shock waves reverberated within that milieu for over a year.  U.S. radicals opposed to Israel's policies were horrified that their vociferous lambasting of Zionism could be summarized by a proletarian party as synonymous with anti-Semitism.  Sandler went on to explain:
....the term "Zionism"—or "Zionists"—has become a synonym for "Jewish" or "Jew" no matter how much those who use it try to explain it otherwise.
The leaderships of much of the petty-bourgeois left in the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries often agree with or chose to ignore reactionary Jew-baiting remarks from the leaders of Hamas or Hezbollah, or worse, make Jew-baiting remarks of their own. It is also common for them to take the anti-working-class position that workers inside Israel who are Jewish are reactionary and can never be won to support the Palestinians' fight.
In London earlier this year the Marks & Spencer department stores and Starbucks coffee shops were targets of protests over the Israeli assault on Gaza. These businesses are supposedly Jewish-owned. There are calls by academic and professional organizations to prevent Israeli professors and researchers from attending international conferences. Some push for colleges and universities to "divest" themselves from stock in Israeli companies.
Jewish businesses were a prime target of the Nazis in Germany after 1933. Why aren't U.S.-owned businesses targets during protests against Washington's Iraq and Afghanistan wars?
Reader Bustelo states that my remarks are "a completely unwarranted concession to those who say any criticism or opposition to the state of Israel is automatically anti-Semitic." The Socialist Workers Party has never flinched in 60-plus years from our defense of the rights of the Palestinian people. The SWP has a proud and uncompromising record in opposition to the expulsion of the Palestinian population and for the defeat of Israel in every war it has waged from 1948 to the recent assault on Gaza.
We are confident that coming battles by Palestinian working people over land, against the walls blocking off sections of the West Bank and Gaza, for water rights, for freedom of movement, for jobs at decent pay and with union protection, against many juridical restrictions determined by religion, will bring forward a new generation of leaders.
Out of a fighting perspective of building a broad-based movement for a democratic, secular Palestine a new communist leadership will be built, one that can provide leadership to more and more working people in the occupied territories, among Palestinian and Jewish workers inside Israel, and the broader region.
That fighting perspective was verified in 2011 with massive demonstrations against austerity and anti-worker policies in two dozen Israeli cities.  As Sandler had predicted so confidently years earlier, Arabs and Jews found each other on the same side of the class divide:
"I was at one of the recent social protests in Haifa," Ronit Sela, from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said in a phone interview. "At first the chants were in Hebrew. But then an Arab activist got on the stage and started slogans in Arabic and the crowd echoed them. That's the first time I've seen that at a demonstration like this in Israel in my life."
     In Jerusalem, where Sela has visited the tent city, "some of the protesters see this as a fight for the Jewish citizens of Israel," she said, "while in other places it's viewed as a fight for all who live here. It's mixed."
Things are changing as a result of the protest movement, Sela added. "We've entered a bit of a new era."  
Jay Rothermel

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