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Fascism and Big Business by Daniel Guerin

Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 Year in review: a fascinating article on Stalinist anti-Zionism


One of the most fascinating articles I read this year was from - of all places - a website of some UK Shachtman third-campists.

I have downloaded and digested my share of old Soviet pamphlets, [Some can be found at archive.org, others at places like http://www.redstarpublishers.org/]

All are simply ideological rationalizations.

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The Stalinist roots of left "anti-Zionism" 

By Stan Crooke

In the 1970s the rulers of the USSR launched a sustained 'anti-Zionist' campaign, in fact anti-semitic.

No surprise. But an examination of the publications from that campaign shows something much more shocking than the fact that the old Stalinist despots were ready to use any sort of reactionary prejudice for their own ends. It demonstrates that much of what many British and international leftists - even Trotskyists - say about Israel is an indirect and unwitting copy of the Stalinists' efforts at constructing a Marxist-sounding gloss on old anti-semitic themes.

Zionism equals racism; Zionism equals imperialism; Zionism equals South African apartheid; Israel is the USA's 'watchdog' in the Middle East; Zionism is complicit with, or even promotes, anti-semitism - all these themes, now commonplace on the left, were pioneered by the Stalinists.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s the Stalinists had had an 'anti-Zionist' campaign which figured prominently in the show-trials of Rudolf Slansky and others in Eastern Europe in these years. Mordekhai Oren quotes the following interchange with the prosecutor at his own trial:

"Would you be ready to confess that in 1948, after Tito's betrayal, you met Moshe Pijade as well as Dr. Bebler in Belgrade?"

"I didn't meet Pijade in 1948, and even if I had, that would have been no crime. Nor was it a crime to meet Bebler."

"He's a Jew, and you too, and both of you are Zionists."1

By 1953 the stage had been set for the mass deportation of the surviving Jews of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe; an anti-semitic show-trial was due to be staged, in which five Jewish doctors from the Kremlin's own hospital were to face charges of poisoning and plotting. As with the Crimean Tatars after the war, such a mass deportation would have cost the lives of countless tens of thousands. Stalin died before the trial could be held and his successors dropped it.

In the late 1960s a new official 'anti-Zionist' campaign was launched in the Soviet Union, in the aftermath of Israel's victory in the Six Days' War over Arab states friendly to the Soviet Union. It increased in the 1970s, as Israel inflicted another defeat on Arab states in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and Jewish organisations internationally stepped up their campaign for Soviet Jews.

II

The core of the Stalinist argument was their old technique of 'the amalgam'. Zionism, so the Stalinists claimed, was tied up with, allied to, linked with, or responsible for, every reactionary force that right-minded people might detest - capitalism, imperialism, even anti-semitism and Nazism.

"Political Zionism emerged at the close of the nineteenth century as the ideology, and then the practice, of the reactionary Jewish bourgeoisie, fearful of the awakening of the heroic self-consciousness amongst the Jewish proletariat"2. Jewish workers in European countries were participating ever more actively in the class struggle and revolutionary movements. Hence, "to tear them away from this struggle, to confined them to a new but this time spiritual ghetto - such as the social instruction given to Zionism by the bourgeoisie which created it"3.

The creation of a national home for Jews was the means whereby Jewish-bourgeois hegemony over Jewish workers was to be maintained. "The powerful Jewish bourgeoisie, allied with imperialism, needed the creation of a 'national home'... first and foremost in order to keep under its influence the mass of Jewish workers"4.

Moreover: "In the West Jewish capital became such a powerful force that it was able to participate independently in the colonial division of the world"5.

In another version, Jewish capital was maybe not able to compete independently with the biggest capitalist powers. But it was nevertheless a central agent of theirs - indeed, miraculously, simultaneously a central agent of all the competing powers!

"The capitalists of England, the USA, France, Germany, and other countries, amongst them millionaires and multi-millionaires of Jewish origin, who had their eyes on the wealth of the Near East, helped the creation of the Zionist idea. From the very outset it was linked with the project of the establishment in Palestine of a Jewish state as a Jewish fortress, a barrier against Asia."6.

"It is claimed" - so the Stalinists admitted, "that Zionism is nothing but a reaction against anti-semitism."7 But only 'Zionist ideologues' could suggest that. For the Stalinists, it was not the anti-semites but the Zionists who exploited the notorious Dreyfus affair of anti-semitic persecution in late 19th century France. "The Dreyfus affair was used by the Jewish bourgeoisie of Western Europe for the consolidation of nationalist political forces in the united World Zionist Organisation, set up in 1897 in Basle."8

According to the Stalinists: "Zionism and anti-semitism are two sides of the same coin - racism. Zionists greeted the anti-semitic policies of Tsarism in its time and also the monstrous policies of genocide at the time of Hitler."9

Indeed, so the Stalinists claimed: "Zionist ideologues have never concealed their positive attitude towards anti-semitism, in which the powerful Jewish bourgeoisie and Judaic clericalism saw a convenient way of maintaining their influence over the Jewish communities"10. Anti-Semitism is "a form of national and religious intolerance which expresses itself in a hostile attitude towards Jews," but at the same time, "this reactionary, antihuman phenomenon has been used (and still is used today) in a speculative manner by Zionists and rabbis as a bugaboo with the help of which it was intended to achieve a consolidation of the crumbling Jewish communities."11

Thus, the Jewish bourgeoisie and its ideologues have shown, and continue to show today, "great interest in the existence of anti-semitic attitudes, in the whipping up of anti-semitism at the level of state policies"12. The idea that Zionism was a response to anti-semitism had gained ground merely because of the "efforts of the Jewish bourgeoisie and of the press which it has bought"13.

In Russia, the Zionists "covertly did their utmost in cooperation with reactionary monarchists to tear away workers of Jewish nationality from unity with the workers of Russia."14 Such was the relationship between Zionism and Tsarism that "[the Zionist leader] Herzl himself met with the Tsarist Minister of the Interior, von Plehve"15. (That the meeting caused outrage, and nearly led to a split, in the Zionist movement in Russia, was not mentioned).

Then Zionist 'anti-Soviet activities' began - in the very first days of the existence of Soviet power - 16. In the civil war "they acted as allies of the counter-revolution... They created Zionist military units which conducted an armed struggle against the Soviet republic"17. No mention of the Zionist units which fought in the Red Army alongside the Bolsheviks.

The Soviet 'anti-Zionist' campaign moved on to accuse Zionists of not merely using or welcoming, but actively promoting anti-semitism, financing anti-semitic organisations, and inciting anti-semitic pogroms:

"In 1930, at the time of a crisis in the United States, there emerged more than a hundred organisations, the time and resources of which were spent on propaganda of hatred towards Jews. (It is important to note that many of them were covertly financed by secret Zionist funds)".18

In the late 1940s and early 1950s: "Secret agents of Zionism whipped up feelings of fear amongst the Jews of Syria, Libya, Tunisia, the Lebanon, Algeria, Morocco, and Egypt, from where entire city communities departed [for Israel]... In the course of several years Zionists stoked up and provoked in every way possible 'useful anti-semitic activities' which helped promote the mass exit of hundreds of thousands of believers in Judaism from Arabic countries."19

Zionists did bomb a synagogue in Iraq to promote Jewish emigration; but the Stalinist campaign extrapolated from such episodes to present the whole wave of anti-Jewish persecution in the Arab countries which followed 1948 as a conspiracy by Zionists.

In Western Europe: "As early as 1950 hatred towards Jews was already very widespread in the West. The powerful Jewish bourgeoisie was far from being the least responsible for this. The many anti-semitic organisations which it created, the state machines in a series of imperialist countries which bowed down before powerful [read: Jewish] capital, and, finally, the ruling Zionist camarilla of Israel used anti-semitism in their class interests."20

And in the 1970s: "The propaganda of anti-semitic views in many capitalist states has kept its importance as a tool of reaction... The Jewish bourgeoisie itself and the many groups and parties which it has created in the service of powerful capital play their role in this... Anti-semitic organisations have been set up with the resources dispensed from the secret funds of Zionism."21

These (unspecified) anti-semitic organisations then became a further means whereby the Zionists could maintain their influence over Jewish communities: "These organisations committed provocative actions, the object of which were poor Jews and the Jewish middle strata. The highest stratum of the Jewish bourgeoisie, the finance and finance-industrial magnates, who constitute the core and the leadership of the entire system of international Zionism... had the possibility of presenting themselves as the 'sole defenders' of the Jewish population... and of demonstrating on more than one occasion 'Jewish solidarity' with the victims of anti-semitism."22

III

The USSR's 'anti-Zionist' campaign took shreds of fact about some Zionists resigning themselves to accept European anti-semitism as a reality they could not change, and blew them up into a conspiracy theory. It went on to blame 'the Zionists' even for the Nazi Holocaust.

"The Zionists welcomed the arrival in power of the fascists in Germany."23 "What saved the Zionists? Fascism! It sounds paradoxical, but it was exactly thus."24 The Zionists wanted Jews to leave Germany, and so too did the Nazis: "The plans of the fascist and Zionist leaders coincided: the fascists planned to drive the Jews out of German 'living space', and the Zionists wanted to realise their goal at the expense of those Jews driven out."25

"We know that Zionism always saw in anti-semitism an ally in the achievement of its goals. It was no coincidence that a mutual understanding emerged between the Nazis, who horribly persecuted Jews, and the Zionists, who played the role of 'saviours' of the Jews."26 Hence it came about that Zionists "co-operated with Hitlerites and helped them to destroy millions of Jewish lives, attempting to save only the capitalists. The Zionists always regarded anti-semitism, and still do so, as an important means of forcing all Jews to leave their countries and escape to the 'Promised Land' in Israel".27

There was, moreover, an overlap between the theories of Zionism and fascism: "As regards the theory of 'racial purity', the treatises on 'lower' and 'higher' peoples, the concepts of the 'Aryan' and the 'superman', here there is really not a little in common between the Zionists and the fascists."28 The theories of various 'Zionist ideologues' did not differ "at all from the views on racial exclusiveness to be found in the 'collected works' of Hitler, Rosenberg, and other fascist theoreticians."29 "Zionism is akin to Nazism"30 because "the ideologues of Zionism and apartheid are related to it (Nazism), (and) are merely contemporary variations of the myth about the supposedly innate inequality of people and races"31.

Thus it was that Zionism and fascism ended up collaborating with one another: "The monstrous plans of the fascist animals, based on the inhuman and racist ideology of Hitlerism, met with the cooperation and support of other racists - Zionists."32 "Co-operation between the Zionists and Hitlerites spread to the occupied territories of the USSR. The Zionists helped uncover those of Jewish origin who were hiding from the Gestapo and the police, handed them over to the fascists, and took part in the mass slaughter of Jews."33 "It has become known that Polish Zionists who have now fled to Israel worked side-by-side with the Gestapo and the Nazi military intelligence service during the war."34

Writing as if 'the Zionists' were not Jews themselves, many of them fated to be killed by the Nazis, the Stalinists stated that 'the Zionists' were not concerned about the fate of Jews living (and dying) in Germany under Nazi rule: "The Zionists were completely unconcerned with the interests of the German Jews."35 The fate of the Jews in Nazi Germany "did not at all alarm the Zionists during the years of the war against fascism. And this in a situation where the Jews were the victims of atrocious terror and persecution."36 For the Zionists, creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine was more important than saving Jewish lives: "The Zionists reconciled themselves to the camps and the ghettos, to the extermination of millions of Jews... The Zionists needed the corpses of these Jews because across them lay the road out of the occupied countries and into Palestine. The Jews who were allowed to be victims of fascism were 'proof'... of the necessity of the creation of a Jewish state."37 The attitude of the Zionists was: "let millions (of Jews) drown in blood if there remains one road open for hundreds of thousands-to Palestine."38

The only Jews whom the Zionists were concerned to save from fascism were the wealthy - they cared nothing for German Jews "with the exception of German Jew capitalists, who, as soon as Hitler came to power, transferred their capital to Swiss and German banks."39

The Zionists were prepared to let the weak go to their deaths so that only the strong would be left to inhabit Israel: "With the assistance of the Nazis, the so-called 'selection' of the settlers was achieved, the citizens of the future Israel. 'The dust of the old world' was turned into ashes of the concentration camps."40

Without the assistance of the Zionists, the Nazis could not have carried out their extermination programme: "Could the fascists have managed without their Zionist assistants? This question can be answered only by clarifying the role of the Zionist leaders in the extermination of the Jews of Europe. Their assistance gave the fascists the possibility of exterminating hundreds of thousands of Jews at the hands of dozens or a few hundred selected killers."41

"The Judenrate [Jewish councils] sincerely and exactly carried out all the orders of the fascists, even orders about the physical mass elimination of the Jewish population... In the shape of the Judenrate the activities of the Zionists were legalised and their leaders became loyal executors of fascist policies."42

The Zionists also attempted to prevent any opposition to the Nazi policies: "Wherever the inhabitants of the ghettos who were condemned to death succeeded in organising uprisings against the fascists, especially in Warsaw in 1943, the Zionists helped the Germans frustrate the uprisings, or crush them where they occurred"43. In fact the Warsaw uprising was led by a Zionist!

The central message of the Soviet 'anti-Zionist' campaign in relation to the alleged Zionist-Nazi collaboration was clear: "The Zionist crimes in the ghettos and the death camps must be completely uncovered, so that it can be recognised at what price it was that the state of Israel was created... That the state of Israel was created by hands warmed in Jewish blood is indisputable."44

Thus, the rise of Zionism and of Israel had nothing to do with reflex responses to Nazi or more general anti-semitic persecution. It was a gratuitous act of evil.

Immediately upon the creation of the state of Israel, "Zionism, a dangerous, fascistic force reminiscent of the Black Hundreds, a doctrine which is reactionary and expansionist by its very nature, became the ideology of its ruling circles."45 "Such is the irony of history: the Zionist rulers of Israel carry out the very same policies of genocide in relation to the Arabs as those which were carried out by the Hitlerites in relation to the Jews."46

The factors which official USSR 'anti-Zionism' had discovered behind the emergence of Zionism - the devilish cunning of the Jewish bourgeoisie in its efforts to maintain control over the Jewish working class, and the enormous secret and concentrated power of Jewish bourgeoisie, which enabled it to take part as an independent force in the scramble by European empires to divide up the world, or somehow to act as the vanguard of imperialism in general - likewise lay behind the creation of the state of Israel: "The monopoly Jewish bourgeoisie established control over Jewish workers in different countries of the world, strengthened its positions in the major capitalist countries, and achieved an extension of colonial expansion in Asia and Africa. The most important instrument in the realisation of these tasks of the Jewish monopoly bourgeoisie in contemporary conditions is the state of Israel, which is ruled by Zionists - an inseparable part of international Zionism."47

"In a situation where the colonial system was collapsing, imperialism began feverishly to search after and work out new forms and methods for the achievement of expansionist policies. The state of Israel was created just at the time when the waves of the rising national liberation movement in Asia and Africa began to destroy the colonial empire"48. The creation of Israel was thus "the creation of a strategic 'buffer' between Europe and Asia, an advance outpost of the struggle against communism and the national liberation movement."49

In fact Israel got its weapons for the 1948 war in which it was established by smuggling and from USSR-controlled Czechoslovakia. The USSR, then keen to seize what seemed to be a chance to strike a blow at the British Empire, was the first state to recognise Israel. The left-Zionist group Mapam, very influential in the Zionist armed forces in 1948, ardently supported the Soviet Union. The CIA was extremely worried about what it saw as the leftish and pro-USSR tinge of Israeli politics after 1948. And the British Empire, through Arab armies largely controlled by Britain, made war on Israel in 1948.

But for the USSR's hack writers: "Israel was and remains so today an important tool in the hands of imperialism in the struggle against the national liberation movement of the Arab countries, in the struggle for control over the oil of the Arab East."50 It is "an advance outpost of the imperialism of the United States in the Near East... To this state has been allotted the role of being a co-participant in carrying out the neo-colonial policies of the imperialist powers in the countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America."51 It has the job of "acting as a gendarme in armed conflict against the Arab peoples".

Where and how Israel had been of any practical assistance to the USA or any other big capitalist power in securing their oil or other interests in the Middle East, the Stalinists did not specify. They pressed on with their picture of 'Zionism' as the spearhead of imperialism, especially US imperialism: "The financial-economic support of Israel on the part of internationalist Zionist circles transforms it into a parasite-state."52 This economic backing also means that "the economy of Israel is in reality controlled by the internationalist Zionist corporation, by Zionist capital of the USA, England, France, and a series of other countries."53 Thus, "the nationalistic ruling stratum of Israel is in fact part of the international Zionist concern, based in New York and controlled from the United States."54

V

For the Stalinist writers, Israel was not only a sort of offshoot or outpost of the USA. It was, with fiendish cunning, simultaneously an offshoot or outpost of South Africa as it was before 1994, under the system of apartheid.

"Israel has a special relationship of the closest kind with South Africa. Israel and South Africa are linked to one another by economic, political, military, and ideological ties... Israel and South Africa are linked by a common racist ideology and practice, and by reactionary domestic and foreign policies... The union of the racists of Israel and South Africa is a massive threat to the African peoples and to the whole of humanity."55

Facile analogies, now prevalent on the British left, featured constantly in the Soviet campaign. Zionism and apartheid possessed 'common ideological roots'.56 "In the South of Africa, in the Republic of South Africa, and in Palestine, close to the Suez Canal, there arose two platforms of world imperialism, summoned... to put a check to the national-liberation movement of the peoples".57

In both Israel and South Africa, "racial-biological doctrines have been raised to the level of an official ideology and of state policies, in accordance with which people are divided into the 'elect' and the banished".58

The Soviet 'anti-Zionist' campaign did differ from the contemporary British leftists' frequent equating of Israel and apartheid South Africa in that it was rather more imaginative in discovering supposed parallels. It was, after all, no coincidence that "the entire history of South Africa and Palestine reveals very many identical events and common traits," the most notable ones being59:

In 1880, in the Cape Colony, the first South African nationalist party had been founded; in the same year the first Zionist organisation was set up in Russia; the former advocated separate development for Blacks; the latter opposed assimilation.

The turn of the 19th/20th century was a period of conflict between the Boers and the British, resulting in the Boer War; at the same time inter-imperialist rivalries for colonies became more acute, "above all between British imperial capital and international Jewish capital."

In the opening years of the century both Zionism and South African nationalism used social demagogy to attract support: "all possible variants of petty-bourgeois socialism became common in Zionism, just as in South Africa there was national socialism and labourite reformist socialism."
Both the Zionists and the Afrikaner nationalists exploited the 1914-18 war, the former obtaining the Balfour Declaration (in which Britain promised to support a 'Jewish homeland' in Palestine), and the latter being prepared to organised armed revolt against Britain in order to obtain concessions.
After the war, "both Afrikaner nationalism and Zionists ever more overtly became the right flank of imperialism, together with fascism."
In the inter-war years "the Afrikaner bourgeoisie and international Jewish capital created a series of secret organisations, in their own way centralised Mafias."

In the 1939-45 war both the Zionists and the South African nationalists were "close in spirit to Hitler'. While "English soldiers died on the battlefields, fighting against the Nazis who had set themselves the goal of exterminating the Jews, Zionist extremists did not stop even at. the use of terror against the English authorities'; the South African nationalists "attempted in an analogous manner to use the war situation to pursue anti-English goals, in order to strengthen their position in the country."
Immediately after the close of the war Zionism allied itself with American imperialism, and so too did the South African nationalists, in order to "break free of dependence on the British Empire. The Empire lost control over the Palestine problem, and its influence over South Africa fell sharply."
The state of Israel was proclaimed on 14 May 1948; on 26 May 1948, the Nationalist Party came to power in South Africa. In South Africa, however, the leading role belonged as ever to the Zionist conspiracy. "By 1945... Jewish immigrants (to South Africa), with the support of international Zionist capital, had rapidly occupied the key positions in the economy and trade, and had begun to extract profits from the system of racial inequality dominant in the country."

Within a matter of years "the racists (of South Africa) in reality collapsed into economic dependence on the Zionists."60

One last piece of evidence adduced by the Soviet campaign as proof of the evils of Zionism was its alleged record of collaboration with Trotskyism. In the late 1920s, "the Zionists looked for support amongst the defeated anti-Leninist factional groupings amongst the Trotskyite oppositionists."61 It was therefore "far from being a coincidence that the Zionist newspaper Tayit addressed itself to Trotsky in 1927, calling him "our brother', and inviting the Trotskyites to 'unity of action'."62 In "the attempts to undermine socialism in Czechoslovakia' (i.e. the 1968 reform movement, eventually crushed by a Russian invasion) Zionists worked hand-in-glove with the Trotskyites: "... with the remnants of bourgeois parties which emerged from the underground, with right-wing social democracy, with 'national-communists', with Trotskyites."63 Contemporary Zionism continues to co-operate with "extremists and openly fascist forces, and to maintain at the same time contacts and close links with Trotskyites and revisionists of all shades."64 Today, "Zionism closely co-operates with many other battalions of anti-communism - neo-fascists, Ukrainian bourgeois nationalists, Horthyite, Ustashi, South African racists, Trotskyites, and Maoists."65

Even this kind of cant finds an echo on the British far left. It was, after all, the Workers' Revolutionary Party, backed up by some sympathetic Labour Party members, which declared with editorial authority: "The Zionist connection between these so-called 'lefts' in the Labour Party [i.e. Socialist Organiser, a forerunner of Workers' Liberty] right through to Thatcher and Reagan's White House is there for all to see in its unprincipled nakedness.'66

VI

Tsarism, British imperialism, Hitlerism, Afrikaner nationalism, Trotskyism... according to the Stalinists, "the Zionists' were also the shock-troops of US imperialism. Either Israel was an outpost of the USA, or "the Zionists' controlled the USA, or both.

The Kremlin argued: "The real masters of international Zionism who finance and inspire the aggression of Israel against Arab countries and the anti-communist, anti-Soviet activity of Zionist organisations, are the most powerful monopolies and banks of the USA and other countries, that is, the driving forces of contemporary imperialism.'67 But this begs the question of who exerts the major influence and control over "the most powerful monopolies and banks of the USA".

"The existence in the United States of the most numerous grouping in the world of capitalists of Jewish origin... is the most important factor determining the specific nature of American Zionism... About 20% of American millionaires are Jews, although, as is well known, the proportion of Americans of Jewish origin does not exceed 3% of the entire population of the USA."68 American Zionism, therefore, constitutes "a mighty and powerful detachment of international Zionism, by virtue of both its numbers and also its financial-political possibilities.'69 In the American political arena it thus performs a dual function: "as spokesperson of the interests of one of the groupings of the bourgeoisie of the USA, playing no small role in circles which determine the policies of Washington, and as part of international Zionism, closely connected with its other groupings."70

"The powerful Jewish bourgeoisie is far from occupying the lowest position in the financial oligarchy of the USA."71 "The position of the middle-man in relation to the organisation of major long-term loans is in reality monopolised by seventeen of the most powerful Wall Street firms. The majority of them belong either partially or entirely to the powerful Jewish bourgeoisie".72 "A series of monopolies which have contracts with the Pentagon are controlled by the Zionists. The Lazard brothers, for example, who are members of the American Jewish Committee, control the aviation company Lockheed, 90% of the work of which is for the Pentagon. Zionists have an entrenched position in the General Dynamics corporation as well... It is necessary to say that these and other firms with contracts with the Pentagon are the main suppliers of weapons to Israel."73

"American Zionists dispose of massive financial resources and a far-reaching network of organisations. They possess a powerful propaganda apparatus and control a significant share of the means of mass communication in the country.'74

Other spheres of influence of Zionism in America include the CIA ("The interests of the powerful Jewish bourgeoisie and other groupings of finance capital are interlaced in the secret service just as in other spheres of politics, economics and ideology"75), primaries for the selection of Presidential candidates ("The participation of Zionist capital in the financing of the primary campaigns and in working out the platforms in the primaries of the candidates for President - this phenomenon is characteristic of political life in the USA"76), and the Mafia ("The leadership of the Mafia was [at the time of Al Capone] closely linked with Zionists and international Zionism, and some Zionists... became its leaders."77

It is therefore far from clear who is the tail and who is the dog. Zionism is simultaneously an agency of American imperialism, and at the same time the driving force behind it: "Zionism has now become one of the most influential forces in the American political arena... The union of the Zionists with different political forces in the USA, expressing the interests of the entire American ruling class, significantly strengthens the possibilities of Zionism exerting an influence on the policies of Washington."78

VII

The Stalinist account sought to mobilise every sort of sentiment it could plausibly appeal to under "Marxist' colours - anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism, anti-racism, anti-Nazism, and even opposition to anti-semitism - against 'the Zionists', by way of portraying 'the Zionists' as in cahoots with, or as pulling the strings of, those responsible for all the evils appealed against.

It was in fact tantamount to an updated and Marxist version of the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a forgery concocted by the Tsarist secret police in order to portray Jews as secretly working for, and near achieving, world domination.

The original version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was published in Russia in 1903 by Pavel Krushevan. Supposedly the record of a meeting held in Basle in 1897 at the time of the first Zionist Congress in which the participants plotted to achieve world domination, this piece of fiction quickly became a warrant for anti-semitic pogroms, often organised directly by the Tsarist secret police.

The major themes of the forgery were: Jews controlled and manipulated the media in order to gain in power; Jews used cunning and guile to strengthen their position in society; international finance and banking were under Jewish control; Jews aspired to world domination, using these methods of control of the media, cunning and deceit, and control over international finance; this aim was to be achieved in partnership with the Freemasons.

According to the Stalinists, the Tsarist secret police were quite right to think that Jews were establishing a sinister grip on the media. "In many bourgeois countries, Zionist organisations have implanted their 'cadres' and 'sympathisers' into the central press agencies, the editorial offices of radio and television, into the cinema, the sciences, arts, and literature. Using these powerful levers, the Zionists influence public opinion, overtly or covertly preaching their ideas, skirting round in silence or distorting anything which contradicts their ideology in the slightest."79

Zionism exerts "major, sometimes overwhelming, influence on means of mass communication, culture, and the state-administrative apparatus of the major capitalist states." It focuses its attention "in particular on the cinema, television, radio and daily newspapers."80 As a result of this control over "means of mass communication, the 'intellectual industries' and cultural institutions... "Zionism is an indispensable part of the capitalist world, in which 'mass culture' fulfils precisely expressed functions of the ideological armoury of the bourgeoisie."81

The earnest researcher should not be bamboozled by the superficial facts of Jews being a small minority in all major countries, politically divided among themselves, and often not keen to be stridently "Zionist'. "Analysing the organisational labyrinth of international Zionism is very complicated. This is to be explained by several factors. Firstly, the secret of the organisational structure is carefully concealed from the uninitiated.'82 Another factor lies in the fact that "many Zionist organisations... prefer to appear in the guise of 'Jewish', 'religious', 'socialist', 'benevolent', 'cultural', 'educational', 'scientific' leagues, funds, unions, groups, and parties"83. That they do not call themselves 'Zionist' is merely a matter of "tactics, of the means whereby to realise the policies of the Jewish nationalist bourgeoisie."84

Synagogues are one example of institutions used as a cover for Zionist activities: "Where Zionist political organisations are unable to exist legally, such as in the countries of socialism, they (the Zionists) come running to the services of the synagogues and the rabbis for the purpose of pursuing their subversive activities and recruiting supporters from amongst the believers."85 Cultural activities can also be another cover for Zionist subversion: "The events in Poland and Czechoslovakia in 1967-8 and also the trials in Leningrad, Riga and Kishinev in 1970 and 1971 bear witness to the fact that the 'cultural' activity of Zionists is far from being the harmless affair that they would like to present it as."86 Literature is likewise used for the propagation of Zionism: "Zionist and pro-Zionist writers attempt to impose upon people false, anti-scientific and anti-historical conceptions which are of benefit to Zionism. As fairly typical examples it is possible to name such writers as Kingsley Amis, Bernard Malamud, Eugene Ionesco, and many others."87

Zionism, in short, is prepared to resort to any form of duplicity in pursuit of its goals: "Zionism uses particularly dirty and provocative methods in this struggle for people's minds. Deception, diversions, espionage, terror, blackmail, bribery, intimidation, falsification, playing on family and national sentiments, unbridled chauvinism - this is a far from complete list of the methods of Zionist propaganda and practice."88

Also: "Over the years, Zionism changed into a powerful international concern. The international Zionist corporation... its countless branches and subsidiaries... is one of the most powerful units of finance capital.'89 The economic basis of Zionism is "the most powerful financial industrial-monopolies of the West... Economic conferences of Jewish millionaires are capital united on a world scale, used to exert pressure on states and governments in a series of capitalist countries in pursuit of political goals"90. The Zionist organisations are controlled by the powerful Jewish bourgeoisie: "in the leadership of the Zionist organisations there has never been, nor is there now, a single worker or peasant; instead, at all levels of the Zionist hierarchy are rabbis, millionaires, bankers, stock-brokers, speculators representatives of monopolies, etc."91

The same principle also applies to Judaism, from which according to the 'anti-Zionist' campaign, the racist Zionist concept of 'the chosen people' is derived92: "Wherever the rabbis rule together with the Zionists, everything is subordinate to one goal - serving the interests of capital. Therefore, as a rule, the leading roles in religious communities not only in Israel but also in the USA and other capitalist countries are played by wealthy people: businessmen, directors of companies, financial bosses."93

Zionism, which was "called into life at the will of the Jewish bourgeoisie"94, knows of "ways in and out of the corridors of power of which the uninitiated are ignorant."95 Apart from its influential position in the politics and economies of the United States and Western Europe, and its subversive activities in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, "the powerful Jewish bourgeoisie is firmly entrenched in Spain and Portugal, in the economies of a series of Latin American countries, in Australia and New Zealand. Its sphere of influence extends to the countries of Asia as well, including Singapore, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, and Malaysia. As a rule, this involves representatives of families which are involved in a series of countries and also in several continents."96 In Latin America, for example, where "the Jewish bourgeoisie is encouraged by foreign capital, which has transformed it into its base in line with not only its economic but also its political plan"97, "banks and also securities in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Columbia, Venezuela, and also other countries as well belong to pro-Zionist capital... The powerful Zionist bourgeoisie of the USA plays the role in Latin America of the most aggressive detachment of North American imperialism."98

The organisational structure of international Zionism is based on "subsidies of Zionist bankers and other capitalists, (through which) was created an extensive extra-state and even supra-state system of organisations entangling, like a cobweb, many capitalist states which spread out their tentacles into the countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. To this system belongs first and foremost the World Zionist Organisation and the World Jewish Congress."99

It is therefore "no exaggeration to say that the system of organisations of international Zionism (which extends throughout the entire world and, at the same time, is strongly centralised) united with a powerful financial-economic base in the shape of the monopoly bourgeoisie of Jewish origin... is the main source of strength and activity of Zionist influence on the politics of a series of leading capitalist states. At present, international Zionism... given the depth of its penetration into the most variegated spheres of political, economic, and social life of the capitalist countries, has no equal amongst the other bourgeois-nationalist and anticommunist currents and detachments of world reaction."100

International Zionism is not satisfied with merely having no equal in the imperialist world. It strives for world power, in the traditions of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion: "The representatives of international Zionist capital openly aspire to world domination, although they mask their ambitions of world conquest by way of vague phrases about 'ethical socialism'."101 Going beyond the original version of the Protocols however, the 1970s USSR version suggested that that goal had already been achieved, at least outside the borders of the vigilantly 'anti-Zionist' Stalinist states: "Too much bears witness to the fact that in the sum of various factors - economic, political, ideological, social, religious, societal, etc. - which determine the course of action of the ruling circles of the leading capitalist states, the cosmopolitan Jewish bourgeoisie. and Zionist capital (closely linked with Judaic clericalism) emerge as significantly more organised, more ambitious, and more powerful them any other influential monopoly (family, banking, regional) groups and groupings of the financial oligarchy."102

None of this, of course was anti-semitism. It was simply 'anti-Zionism'.

FOOTNOTES

V. Bolshakov (1972): Zionism in the Service of Anti-Communism.

M. Davydov et al. (1973): We Pass Judgement on Zionism.

I. Mints et al. (19731: Zionism: Theory and Practice.

V. Skurlatov (1975): Zionism and Apartheid.

R. Brodsky/ Y. Shulmeister (1976): Zionism - A Tool of Reaction.

V. Kiselev et al. (1977): International Zionism: History and Politics.

1. Prisonnier Politique à Prague, Mordekhai Oren

2. Soifer, p.5

3. Bolshakov, p.8

4. Bolshakov, p.8

5. Skurlatov, p.39

6. Soifer, p.5

7. Mitin, p.54

8. Mitin, p.58, footnote

9. Soifer, p.21

10. Mitin, p.58

11. Mitin, p.19

12. Mitin, p.59

13. Mitin, p 59

14. Davydov, p.12

15. Davydov p.13

16. Mitin, p.218

17. Davydov, p.4

18. Mitin, p.62

19. Mints, p.169

20. Mints, p.169

21. Mitin, p.62

22. Mitin, p.224

23. Soifer, p.42

24. Brodsky, p.75

25. Brodsky, p.82

26. Mitin, p.224

27. Soifer, p.38

28. Bolshakov, p.27

29. Brodsky, p.33

30. Davydov, p.7

31. Skurlatov, p.4

32. Soifer, p.43

33. Soifer, p.49

34. Bolshakov p.39

35. Soifer, p.42

36. Bolshakov, p.25

37. Brodsky, p.78

38. Brodsky, p. 84

39. Soifer, p.42

40. Bolshakov p.43

41. Brodsky, p.89

42. Brodsky, p.90

43. Soifer, p.46

44. Brodsky, p.117

45. Mitin, p.83

46. Soifer, p.22

47. Kiselev. p.12

48. Mints, p.180

49. Soifer, p.34

50. Soifer, p.123

50. Mitin, p.83

51. Mitin, p.83

52. Mints, p.95

53. Bolshakov, p.96

54. Kiselev, p.75

55. Soifer, p.127

56. Skurlatov, p.43

57, Skurlatov, p.47

58. Skurlatov, p.4

59. Skurlatov pp.21, 46, 51, 55, 55, 58, 57, 58, 59, 84

60. Skurlatov p.112

61. Mitin, p.218

62. Mitin, p.223

63. Mitin, p.115

64. Mitin, p.266

65. Soifer, p.50

66. Newsline, 9.4.1983

67. Bolshakov, p.58

68. Kiselev, p.113

69. Kiselev p.113

70. Kiselev p.114

71. Bolshakov p.48

72. Bolshakov p.51

73. Soifer, p.65

74. Kiselev, p.148

75. Bolshakov, p.173

76. Bolshakov p.80

77. Bolshakov p.162

78. Kiselev, p.130

79. Mitin, p.98

80. Kiselev, p.15

81. Mitin, p.95

82. Bolshakov, p.90

83. Bolshakov p.90

84. Kiselev, p.123

85. Mitin, p.128

86. Mitin, p.85

87. Mitin, p.93

88. Soifer, p.183

89. Bolshakov, p.5

90. Soifer, p.59

91. Mitin, p.245, footnote

92. See Mitin, chapter 3, 'Judaism and Zionism'

93. Mitin, p.31

94. Bolshakov p.5

95. Bolshakov, p.5

96. Bolshakov p.72

97. Kiselev, p.i63

98. Kiselev, p.164

99. Mitin, p.188

100. Kiselev, p.15

101. Skurlatov p.118

102. Mitin, p.127



http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2004/02/24/stalinist-roots-left-anti-zionism-1

http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2004/02/24/stalinist-roots-left-anti-zionism-2

2014 Year in review: Comrades of the Year




From left the Cuban Five: Fernando González, Ramón Labañino, Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero and René González with Cuban President Raúl Castro, in uniform, Dec. 17, day that Hernández, Labañino and Guerrero arrived in Cuba after 16 years in U.S. jails. Image: Granma



Emulate, defend Cuban Revolution 

(front page, editorial)

As this issue was going to press, we and millions around the world learned with joy that the Cuban Five are all now together — in Cuba.
It is a great moment of celebration for all those who have fought for the past 16 years to win their freedom. Readers of the Militant, who have been an active part of this international campaign from the very beginning, are among those to be saluted.

The great Puerto Rican revolutionary Rafael Cancel Miranda accurately pointed to the stakes in this fight some two years ago when he asked, “Why do we fight for the Five?” He answered: “Because we are fighting for ourselves, for our own freedom.”

Today we can say the victory that has been won puts working people in the U.S. and around the world on a stronger footing to defend and advance our interests. We are now in a stronger position to broaden the struggle to end Washington’s brutal, more-than-half-century-long economic war against Cuba, to fight for the normalization of relations with Havana, and to end the violation of the right of U.S. residents to travel to Cuba. We are in a better position to prevent those opposed to such measures from using the congressional purse strings to block the establishment of an embassy in Havana for the first time since early 1961, or to deny confirmation of a U.S. ambassador.

Above all, the victory freeing the Cuban Five reinforces all those, from Ferguson, Missouri, to Staten Island, New York, and beyond, who are taking to the streets to demand a halt to cop brutality and killings. The courage, dignity and discipline of the Five throughout their 16-year incarceration has helped shine a spotlight on the class-based character of capitalist “justice” experienced firsthand by millions of working people in the U.S. — from the brutality of cops and prison guards carrying out “the law,” to “plea bargains” and the denial of any semblance of presumption of innocence and trial by a jury of your peers.

The fight for the Five reinforced, and was reinforced by, struggles of workers at Walmart and elsewhere for dignity, full-time work and a union, and of rail workers to defend life and limb against the rail bosses’ ruthless drive for profits.

From the beginning of the frame-up and the fight against it in the late 1990s, the Militant has helped, week in and week out, to get out the truth about the Cuban Revolution and the fight to win freedom for the Five. We’ve reported on their activity on the front lines of the class struggle in U.S. prisons, and on the ongoing proletarian internationalist course of the Cuban Revolution they were imprisoned not only for defending but for being in the vanguard of advancing — and will now continue defending on different terrain.

Many of these articles from the pages of the Militant are now parts of books in many languages distributed around the world that eloquently convey the truth about the Cuban Revolution and the Five. Among them are Cuba and Angola: Fighting for Africa’s Freedom and Our Own; Voices From Prison: The Cuban Five; I Will Die the Way I’ve Lived; and the soon-to-be published Absolved by Solidarity: 16 Watercolors for 16 Years of Unjust Imprisonment, with paintings by Antonio Guerrero.

These “defense case” titles won’t have to be consigned to cartons like so many outdated brochures. They remain invaluable tools for struggles and political activity — for political example — by growing numbers of working people who are resisting assaults by the capitalist rulers and their political parties and governments.

Workers are looking for alternatives to the dog-eat-dog values of the capitalist system, to the deadliness that results from the workings of exploitation and oppression. The stories of the men and women who made the Cuban Revolution, and who fight today to defend and strengthen it, are needed more than ever.

Across the United States and other parts of the world, fighters who have campaigned to free the Cuban Five will be gathering on or around Jan. 1, the 56th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, to celebrate the victory all of us have won.

We urge readers of the Militant to help initiate and build these events. They are part of expanding what Gerardo Hernández, just released from a double-life sentence without parole, has called the “jury of millions” — not just the jury that was necessary to free the Five, but the only jury that can defend and emulate the example of the Cuban people. 


http://themilitant.com/2014/7847/784720.html 



2014 Year in Review: Defend Ukraine sovereignty! Oppose Moscow’s war moves!

24 March 2014:
I selected the photos for this post.

-


Still not too late to contribute!

Russian troops out! Defend Ukraine sovereignty! 

(editorial)

Working people the world over should stand with fellow workers and farmers of Ukraine in demanding Russian troops out now! Defend the sovereignty of independent Ukraine!

The Russian government of President Vladimir Putin is raising the specter of war. This is a threat to workers and farmers of Ukraine — Ukrainian, Russian, Tatar, Jews, etc. — as well as to working people in Russia, the rest of the former Soviet republics, and beyond.

The Ukrainian toilers overthrew Moscow’s puppet government of Viktor Yanukovych, opening up space to debate, discuss and organize. Supporting their victory is part of advancing labor’s fight around the world against the bosses’ assaults on our living standards, rights and very dignity.

The Putin government’s annexationist maneuvers are being carried out under false claims of defending “self-determination” in Crimea and protecting ethnic Russians. Moscow is organizing a fake plebiscite at gunpoint as its state media spews a fountain of lies, which dries up in the face of every credible on-the-scene report. Russian speakers are not fleeing to the motherland. There is not a significant movement in Crimea in favor of joining Russia or becoming an “independent” vassal of Moscow. Russian churches and Jewish synagogues in Ukraine are not under assault.


Reporting team on the spot at Maidan

The propertied rulers of both Russia and Ukraine — as well as in Western Europe and America — are driven by fear of the mobilization of working people. And it has found an echo in the “left,” including among many who claim to stand for socialism and the interests of the working class.

As self-serving justification for turning their back on the mobilizations of hundreds of thousands of working people in Ukraine, much of the radical left has clung to a fantastic tale of conspiracy: “Fascist forces have taken over in Ukraine, swept to power by a secret operation engineered from Washington.” The presumption is that U.S. imperialism is the one source of all problems and the enemy of my enemy is automatically my friend.

Further confusion comes wrapped in notions that the Russian regime is a progressive force in the world because it checks the influence of U.S. imperialism. Moscow is a rival of Washington. But both are enemies of working people. And in Ukraine, it’s Russian troops that are on the ground.

Others claim there are residual gains of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia today. There are not. And if there were, would that not be also true of Ukraine? This is a case of a stronger capitalist nation, Russia, attacking a weaker capitalist nation, Ukraine. It is an example of the Great Russian chauvinism that defined the czarist empire’s “prison house of nations” and that was revived as part of the bloody counterrevolution led by Joseph Stalin in the 1920s.

This is why the truth about the early years of the Bolshevik government under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin following the 1917 Russian Revolution is so important. It is the only time in which the rights and aspirations of nations and peoples oppressed under the Russian empire were respected and championed. It is in that same Leninist tradition that the sovereignty of Ukraine must be defended today.

Hidden behind the slanders that demonstrators in Ukraine are “fascists” is a contemptuous view of workers and farmers, of their “backwardness,” their supposed ignorance and lack of sophistication. This begins with disdain toward workers at home, who naturally sympathize when they see people like them fighting against tyranny.

Working people should oppose Washington’s denial of visas to Russian officials, imperialist threats of sanctions against Russia or any U.S. intervention in the affairs of Ukraine, military or otherwise.

Workers in the U.S. and Western Europe should demand imperialist governments provide unconditional economic aid, not more loans, and cancel all debts to Ukraine on the brink of economic collapse.

And what if Ukraine joins the European Union trade alliance? We would join struggles by Ukrainian toilers against inevitable mass layoffs and other hardships the capitalist rulers of Europe would impose. And we would welcome the deeper integration of Ukrainian workers with the rest of their class in Europe.

The working class in the former Soviet republics was not defeated with the fall of the Soviet Union. The goal of the Russian regime in a war against Ukraine would be to deal major blows to the morale, confidence and combativeness of the working class. This is what the Stalinist bureaucracy was never able to accomplish, to the chagrin of the capitalist rulers in Europe and America.

Russian troops out! Defend Ukraine sovereignty! Oppose Moscow’s war moves!

http://www.themilitant.com/2014/7811/781120.html

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The historical novel




From Progress to Catastrophe
Perry Anderson on the historical novel


Within the huge multiverse of prose fiction the historical novel has, almost by definition, been the most consistently political. It is no surprise that it should have occasioned what is still probably the best-known of all works of Marxist literary theory, Lukács’s The Historical Novel, written in Russian exile in the 1930s. Any reflection on the strange career of this form has to begin there, however far it may then wander from him. Built around the work of Walter Scott, Lukács’s theory makes five principal claims. The classical form of the historical novel is an epic depicting a transformation of popular life through a set of representative human types whose lives are reshaped by sweeping social forces. Famous historical figures will feature among the dramatis personae, but their roles in the tale will be oblique or marginal. Narratives will centre instead on middling characters, of no great distinction, whose function is to offer an individual focus for the dramatic collision of opposing extremes between whom they stand, or more often waver. What Scott’s novels then stage is a tragic contest between declining and ascending forms of social life, in a vision of the past that honours the losers but upholds the historical necessity of the winners. The classic historical novel, inaugurated by Waverley, is an affirmation of human progress, in and through the conflicts that divide societies and the individuals within them.

It follows from Lukács’s conception that the historical novel is not a specific or delimited genre or subgenre of the novel tout court. Rather, it is simply a path-breaker or precursor of the great realistic novel of the 19th century. A generation later, Balzac – for example – essentially adapted Scott’s techniques and vision of the world to the present instead of the past, treating the France of the Restoration or the July Monarchy in much the same way that Scott had represented mid-18th-century Scotland or 12th-century England. Balzac’s great successor, for Lukács, was the towering figure of Tolstoy, whose War and Peace represents a peak simultaneously of the historical and of the realist novel in the 19th century. In societies more advanced than Russia, on the other hand, the development of capitalism had by this time pitted a revolutionary working class against a bourgeoisie that no longer believed it bore the future within it, and was intent on crushing any sign of an alternative to its rule. In this quite different – but after 1848 much more typical – situation, the connections of the past with the present were cut in European fiction, and the historical novel gradually became a dead antiquarian genre, specialising in more or less decadent representations of a remote past with no living connection to contemporary existence, but functioning rather as a rejection and escape from them. Such was, archetypically, the fantasy of ancient Carthage constructed by Flaubert in Salammbô.

Fredric Jameson, while remaining faithful to Lukács’s overall vision, has offered a different periodisation within it. He suggests that, rather than seeing Scott as the founder of the classically realist historical novel, we should view him as the practitioner of a costume drama whose narrative form stages a binary opposition between good and evil. A naive ethical antithesis of that sort is the mark of melodrama, and it is no accident – Jameson suggests – that its characteristic artistic expressions should be operatic, rather than novelistic. The truth of Scott is to be found in Rossini or Donizetti, who borrowed from him, rather than in Manzoni, let alone Balzac.

If we wish to see a truer exemplar of Lukács’s prescriptions, Jameson argues, we must turn to War and Peace, a historical novel whose triumph is to transcend the costume-drama oppositions of hero and villain, in its remarkable portraits of a hyper-active yet futile Napoleon, brittle symbol of the French, and an apparently torpid yet supremely sagacious Kutuzov, authentic representative of the slow rhythms of the Russian people and the peasant masses composing its overwhelming majority. Not only this. In War and Peace we find a realism so advanced in its figurations of psyche and sexuality that we seem to be in the presence of a modernism avant la lettre. Yet there is a paradox here, Jameson remarks, in that modernism proper, because of its commitment to the primacy of immediate perception, appears to have been constitutively incapable of generating the totalising retrospect that defines a true historical novel.


This is a brilliant rewriting of Lukács, the seduction of whose starting point – recasting Scott as a librettist – is difficult to resist. Certainly the ethical binary of good and evil imposes a logic of melodrama on much of Scott’s work, but it might be said that Jameson has flinched from the conclusion to be drawn from his own argument. For the fact is surely that Tolstoy – far from transcending this melodramatic structure – reproduces it still more extravagantly in the public narrative of War and Peace, where the opposition between Napoleon and Kutuzov takes the binary of villainy and virtue, the hateful versus the heroic, to caricatural extremes that Scott rarely ventured. Tolstoy’s portrait of Napoleon, Jameson concedes, is perhaps rather petty, unduly diminishing the emperor. But he implies that Tolstoy can thereby be acquitted of demonising him. An answer to this, however, can be found in Sartre’s notable deconstruction of the concept of evil in Saint Genet, where he shows that the pure notion of evil is always caught in the same aporia – what he calls a tourniquet. Either supreme iniquity requires a hideous intelligence and daring in the performance of great crimes, but if so it thereby borrows qualities from the good and ceases to be absolutely evil. Or it is a merely deadened violence, devoid of any reflective, let alone heroic dimension, but in that case it becomes a pathology without responsibility, whose moral insignificance – ‘banality’, Arendt would call it – fails in the opposite way to represent true evil. Tolstoy’s belittling of Napoleon is simply the second variant of this antinomy of villainy, in itself no better than the first.

That this is so can be seen vice versa in the figure of Kutuzov. Jameson suggests that he is no conventional hero, but an empty actant whose function is simply to represent the Russian peasant masses. What tells against this view is not just the effusive, sentimental detail Tolstoy lavishes on the serf-owner general – far more a projection of his own ideology than anything to do with the Russian peasantry – but the lengths to which, as Viktor Shklovsky demonstrated, he went to rig the historical record in constructing him as a patriotic icon. In preparing War and Peace, Tolstoy took the trouble to study, however selectively, materials of the period, so was not unaware of salient realities of the time, but deliberately bent the evidence where it was inconvenient for his propagandist purpose. This is something Scott was on the whole reluctant to do. In War and Peace we are closer to the spirit of Alexandre Dumas’s maxim: ‘On peut violer l’histoire à condition de lui faire de beaux enfants.’

The question, of course, is whether Tolstoy’s fictional portrait of Kutuzov qualifies as such a handsome offspring – that is, a persuasive work of art. The evidence that it fails to do so is written out in extenso in the novel itself, whose incoherent philosophical tirades on the nature of history – deplored by virtually all its readers – function as a compulsive make-weight for the flimsiness of the oleograph at one centre of the narrative, the political stage on which the fate of Russia is played out. The personal destinies of its fictional characters are another matter. But to grasp the sense in which War and Peace is a historical novel, classically interconnecting public events and private lives, it needs to be reinserted in the series of which it is a member. This is something Lukács’s account of the form touches on, but then skirts. The historical novel – if we except its one great precursor, Kleist’s Michael Kohlhaas – is a product of romantic nationalism. This is as true of Tolstoy as it is of Scott, Cooper, Manzoni, Galdós, Jókai, Sienkiewicz or so many others.

The original matrix of this nationalism was the European reaction against Napoleonic expansion. Although this had popular roots, above all in the Tyrol, Spain and Germany, it was everywhere also driven by the need of the continent’s different ancien regimes to mobilise local enthusiasm for the defence of crown and altar. Viewed as a whole, its dominant was always a counter-revolutionary response to the French Revolution. But each particular national situation generated its own distinct forms of imagination and retrospect. Scott was writing in the one bastion of the old order that went unscathed through the Napoleonic Wars, without so much as a single French footprint on British soil. The focus of his nation-building narrative is thus quite distinct from its Continental sequels, and corresponds to the duality of the composite British kingdom itself.

On the one hand, there is the heroic story of the emergence of English national identity, as it first took shape in the struggle of democratic Saxons against aristocratic Normans in the early Middle Ages – Ivanhoe – and then deepened and developed through the early modern Tudor and Stuart periods. Here romantic medievalism was given full rein, in fictions rife with melodramatic contrasts and moralising stereotypes of the kind that rightly draw Jameson’s strictures. In European terms, this was probably the most influential side of Scott’s work. On the other hand, Scott was also the chronicler of the peculiar trajectory of his native Scotland, a quite distinct society, within this larger story. Here a completely different vision was at work, formed not so much by Romantic Schwärmerei, as by the Scottish Enlightenment, whose theories of historical development as a universal succession of stages, passing from hunter-gatherer to pastoral to agricultural to commercial forms of society, Scott absorbed from Adam Ferguson and Dugald Stewart and mapped onto his re-creation of the conflicts between Highlands and Lowlands, clan and capital, in Waverley and its sequels. It was Scott’s capacity to represent the tragic collision between historically distinct times and their characteristic social forms – what Bloch would later call Ungleichzeitigkeit – that commanded Lukács’s special admiration, and lifts this part of Scott’s fiction above the moralisms of the costume drama.

In Tolstoy’s case, we can find a very similar sense of the tragic collision of non-synchronous worlds in his tales of tsarist penetration of the Caucasus, above all in his last writing, Hadji Murad, the masterpiece of his historical fiction. There we are shown, with an impassive, laconic tautness closer to Babel or Hemingway than to any writer of his own time, the utterly contrasting worlds of Russian imperialism and Chechen and Avar clan and religious resistance to it, with their own divisions – each side fully realised, with a magnificent economy of means, in a tale as modern as the carnage in Chechnya today. In War and Peace, however, there is an all but complete absence of any drama of this kind, since the conflict that is nominally staged lacks any truly imagined adversary. Tolstoy, in effect, makes no serious attempt to represent the French invader, but seeks rather to obliterate it by devices of minimisation that stretch from a jejune cartoon of Napoleon to voluble protestations that the Grande Armée’s whole expedition was a meaningless affair. The consequence, inevitably, is something close to a chauvinist tract, in which the enemy remains essentially abstract, not a concrete figuration of two contending historical forces. It is partly for this reason that War and Peace, though undoubtedly (and despite Tolstoy’s own denials) a historical novel, set in a period before the author’s lifetime, is so seldom considered primarily as such today.

But there is another reason too. Setting aside the insubstantiality of the French, even within the Russian society it depicts the novel offers little sense of the passage of historical time: that is, of any disconcerting contrast between the epoch of Alexander I, in which it is set, and of Alexander II, in which it was written. At most, the use of French among aristocrats acts as a generic signifier of difference. Otherwise, we are in a kind of continuous present, a more or less eternal Russia in which the leading characters perform much as if they were contemporaries of the author. It is enough to look at Anna Karenina to see how far we are in the same universe. War and Peace thus offers the curiosity of a historical novel with a very weak sense of history, not because Tolstoy was incapable of one – Hadji Murad shows the opposite – but because at this point he was programmatically committed to treating major historical conflicts as meaningless, in the homemade philosophy set out at such length in the book itself.

What lifts the novel above the level of an idiosyncratic – one might say: peculiarly know-nothing – version of romantic nationalism is not just Tolstoy’s extraordinary gifts of observation, and sense of panoramic construction, but the analytic psychology he learned from Rousseau and (above all) Stendhal, whose role in his development as a writer might be compared with that of Ferguson and Stewart in Scott, as the Enlightenment antidote controlling and redeeming the melodrama of national salvation. The greatness of War and Peace lies here: in the side of Tolstoy, closer to Laclos and Stendhal, that was relentlessly rationalist in his dissection of motive and feeling. Of course, there is no clear-cut line of division between the two registers of his writing. Much that is conventionally ‘romantic’ in a mediocre sense can be found even in his individual characterisations, brilliant as many of these are. Natasha, for example, has many of the traits of a chocolate-box heroine, the ‘poetic, graceful imp’ (inspired, his sister-in-law reported, in part by Mrs Braddon’s ‘sensation novel’ Aurora Floyd), whose fantasy function – at the time and since – as winsome vehicle of Russian charm continues to produce such kitsch as Orlando Figes’s pot-boiling celebration of the national culture, Natasha’s Dance. Pierre’s lumbering progress into her arms is the weakest, because most moralistically predictable, feature of the Bildungsroman that the novel also contains. But such impurities are only a reminder of a larger, more constitutive heterogeneity, not so much of this work as such, but of the genre of the historical novel to which it can still be said to belong.

For if the historical novel began as a nation-building exercise in the backwash of romantic reaction to the French Revolution and Napoleonic expansion, the results varied according to context. The curious emptiness of the political space of War and Peace is also a function of the fact that the Russian Empire was an already constituted great power, which victory in 1812 simply conserved as it was. Behind the novel was not an impulse of emancipation, but of displaced compensation. Smarting from Russian humiliation in the Crimean War, where the troops of Napoleon III had stormed Sebastopol under his eyes, and detesting the liberal intelligentsia that blamed the country’s recent defeat on the backwardness of a society still resting on serfdom, Tolstoy fixed on victory over Napoleon I as a salve for contemporary morale, and a rebuff to the callow reformers of 1856 (‘treasonable hands that would not hesitate to ignite the fires of revolt’), who had called for a prompt emancipation of the serfs that he believed could only ‘end in them slaughtering us’. Central to the purpose of the novel became the counter-projection of a fictive unity of peasantry and aristocracy, repelling the foreign invader despite a Frenchified court and (in reality) all too Germanic high command, to be parodied or ignored. Historically speaking, the sublimation of a retrospective revanchism could only yield what Shklovsky called the canonisation of a legend. War and Peace remains a great novel; unlike most other masterpieces of conservative imagination, however, fissured and weakened by its political intentions, not strengthened by them.

Elsewhere, writers were less ideologically driven. In Germany, Fontane started a historical novel about the campaign of 1812-13, Vor dem Sturm, a year before Tolstoy published his. It even includes the memories of a Prussian officer who had fought at Borodino on the other side, with the Grande Armée. But Fontane’s patriotism was free of any jingoist spirit, respectful of French adversaries and critical of Prussian defects. The Prussian reformers, learning the lessons of defeat by Napoleon at Jena, had started to modernise the state as Alexander I did not. Fontane’s pendant to Tolstoy thus inverts its schema. Its aristocratic heroes raise French-style volunteers to fight the French as they retreat from Russia, only to find that, in a dialectical irony, habits of Prussian discipline still make this militia too rigid to prevail against them. In Spain, Galdós’s Episodios nacionales likewise followed the struggle against Napoleon, but could move to the liberal revolution and absolutist reaction that was intertwined with it in a way that Tolstoy could not. By any measure the greatest monument to the form ever produced – a chain of 46 novels written over 40 years – it was set off by the disappointments of the Spanish Revolution of 1868, whose roots Galdós traced to the war that had reclaimed the nation’s independence. In a panorama unsparing of his country’s defects, without a hint of sentimentality about its nobility or its peasantry, or the frailties of its reformers, a reasoned patriotism and pessimism were conjoined.


In Northern Italy, where French rule was often more appreciated than detested, there was no national reaction against the First Empire, so Manzoni – author of a famous ode to Napoleon – had to situate I Promessi Sposi much further back in time, during Spanish rule over Milan in the 17th century, avoiding any too remote antiquarianism while offering a parable of popular life to stir patriotic feeling against Austrian dominion in the time of the Holy Alliance. The logic of this international pattern can be seen a contrario from the case of France, where for obvious reasons no comparable historical narrative could be constructed. Strictly construed, the nearest equivalent – noted by Lukács – would be the regional drama of Balzac’s Chouans, a Vendéen version of Scott’s Highlanders. But the centrepiece of romantic historical fiction in France was, of course, Notre Dame de Paris, whose medieval phantasmagoria, free-floating sentimentalism and detective story motifs place it completely outside the ranks of the classic historical novel as Lukács defined it. Yet this oddity presaged a more pregnant multiplication of the genre.

In the next generation, France became the leading exporter of the costume drama sans phrases, with the extraordinary career of Alexandre Dumas, though England was not far behind with Harrison Ainsworth and G.P.R. James. It was at this point that the historical novel started to acquire its modern ambiguity. Most literary genres have included a variety of registers, and as the Russian Formalists always emphasised, their vitality has typically depended on interactions between high and low, elite and popular forms, either in a circuit within the genre, or via diagonal connections across them. At the same time, the dominant pole within a genre will usually be fairly clear-cut – Symbolist poetry, let’s say, lying at the elite end of the spectrum, thrillers at the popular end. The peculiarity of the historical novel, however, has been to elude any stable stratification of high and low. Its evolution exhibits rather an oscillating continuum of registers, including – to use for a moment anachronistic terms – not just ‘highbrow’ and ‘lowbrow’ but also importantly ‘middlebrow’ ranges of work. It is the extent of this continuum that arguably sets it apart from other narrative forms.

The reason this may be so appears to lie in the nature of its subject matter. For Lukács, the historical novel was essentially epic in form. It was an extensive representation, in Hegelian terms, of the ‘totality of objects’, as opposed to the more concentrated ‘totality of movement’ proper to drama. But if this is a plausible description of the origins of the form, it cannot account for its diffusion. There, it was not an aspiration to epic totality that would ensure the enormous popularity of fictions about the past, but rather the pre-constituted repertoire of scenes or stories of that history, still overwhelmingly written from the standpoint of battles, conspiracies, intrigues, treacheries, seductions, infamies, heroic deeds and deathless sacrifices – everything that was not prosaic daily life in the 19th century. Here was the road, so to speak, from Jeanie Deans to Milady. The historical novel that conquered European reading publics in the second half of the 19th century would not offend patriotic sentiment, but no longer had a nation-building vocation. The Three Musketeers and its innumerable imitations were entertainment literature.

Side by side with it, persisted ‘high’ forms of the genre. Now, however, the typical development was for leading authors to try their hand at the historical novel, composing one or two such works in a corpus otherwise devoted to realistic representations of contemporary life. Barnaby Rudge and A Tale of Two Cities, Henry Esmond, Romola and Salammbô illustrate this pattern. Lower down, but still above the stratum of Dumas or Ainsworth, figured writers like Stevenson and Bulwer-Lytton. The central fact to grasp, however (the evidence for this is graphically laid out in Franco Moretti’s Atlas of the European Novel), is that the historical novel as a genre predominated massively over all other forms of narrative down to the Edwardian era. It combined enormous market success with continuing aesthetic prestige. In the last season of the Belle Epoque, Anatole France was publishing Les Dieux ont soif, Ford Madox Ford his Fifth Queen; even Conrad would end his career with a couple of historical fictions, set once more in Napoleonic times.

Twenty years later, the scene was utterly changed. By the interwar period, the historical novel had become déclassé, falling precipitously out of the ranks of serious fiction. There were two body blows to its position in the hierarchy of genres. One was the massacres of the First World War, which stripped the glamour from battles and high politics, discrediting malignant foes and sacrificial heroes alike. Staged by both sides in 1914 as a gigantic historical contest between good and evil, the war left the survivors with a terrible hangover from melodrama. The swashbuckling fare of Weyman or Sabatini looked risible from the trenches. But there was also the critical effect of the rise of modernism, broadly construed, to which Jameson has rightly drawn our attention. He points to its primacy of perception as incompatible with totalising retrospect, rendering impossible a modernist version of the kind of historical novel theorised by Lukács. To this could be added its hostility to the corrupting effects of aesthetic facility – to all that was too readily or immediately available – which struck down the popular and middlebrow versions of the historical novel still more stringently.

Thus if we look at the interwar scene, the historical novel becomes a recessive form, at virtually all levels, in Europe. In the United States, on the other hand, shielded from the shock of the war, Faulkner produced a Gothic variant, flinching before no melodramatic licence, in Absalom, Absalom, while at a less ambitious level its middle range flourished as never before – Thornton Wilder, for example, enjoying a reputation that would have seemed odd in Europe. More spectacularly, Gone with the Wind, a tale of Civil War and Reconstruction with a lightweight resemblance to the romantic nation-building fiction of the previous century, became the most successful historical novel of all time. Significantly, what Europe produced in this middle market mode was principally Robert Graves’s I Claudius, the mental escape of a First World War veteran into antiquity, later fodder for a slack television serial. At a higher level, similar reflexes generated a cluster of historical novels by German exiles – the elder Mann, Döblin, Broch, Brecht – in which Fascism was allegorised into the past, as the rise of Julius Caesar, mobs howling for Augustus, or the killers of the Catholic League, in a deliberately modernising spirit completely at variance with the classical conception of the historical novel.

If this was an enclave with few consequences, two works of the interwar period appear by contrast as signposts to the future. One is perhaps the only work that defies Jameson’s judgment that a modernist historical novel would be impossible, although it is certainly true that it makes no attempt at that ‘sense of a historian’s interpretive commentary on events’ whose absence, he argues, debars Döblin’s Wallenstein – its ferocious canvas of absurdity designed after the senseless slaughter of the First World War – from such a title. This jeu d’esprit was Orlando, whose metamorphoses of time and gender, breaking with every realist norm, occupy a niche in the development of the genre comparable, in its proleptic isolation, to Michael Kohlhaas on the eve of its classical form. Woolf was a modernist par excellence. That an older realist tradition was not extinguished, but still capable of a remarkable reassertion, was shown by Joseph Roth’s Radetzky March, which appeared in 1932. This great novel, which Lukács came to admire, answers to all his criteria save one, which it pointedly reverses. Lukács believed that the true historical novel was carried by a sense of progress, such as had carried Scott. Once this disappeared after 1848, decline to a vitiated antiquarianism set in. The Radetzky March demonstrated the opposite. For Roth’s epic traces the decay of the multinational Habsburg Empire and its dominant class with a clarity and artistry equal, if not superior, to any progressivist 19th-century forebear. A deep historical pessimism proved no bar to a magisterial representation of the totality of objects. Simply, in this reversal the nation-state that was once the ideal horizon of the classical historical novel figures in the novel’s sequel, The Emperor’s Tomb, as the end point of a social and moral collapse – the shrunken, riven Austria of the Depression and the Heimwehr when these works were composed.

Roth’s achievement attracted little notice at the time. The Second World War, when it came, reinforced the effects of the first. The flow of historical fiction at the lowest levels of the genre, reduced but even in Europe never interrupted, swelled again as mass literary markets expanded with the postwar boom: in Britain hoary sagas of doughty patriots battling against Napoleon poured – and still pour – off the presses, from C.S. Forester through Dennis Wheatley to Patrick O’Brian. Over time, this output has yielded a teeming universe that can be glimpsed in such omnibus guides as What Historical Novel Do I Read Next?, with its capsule descriptions of more than 6000 titles, and league tables of the most popular historical periods, favoured geographical settings and, last but not least, ‘top historical characters’ – Henry VIII and Jesus Christ tie for fourth place.

But the larger and more indiscriminate this stratum became, the lower the depths to which the historical novel was consigned as a respectable literary form. In 1951 it came as something of a shock when Marguerite Yourcenar won the Prix Fémina for Mémoires d’Hadrien, so completely out of season did historical fiction of any kind – even such a strange anomaly as this one – seem in the true republic of letters. Did people still write that sort of thing? The profound discredit into which the genre had fallen was made clear by the initial reception of what remains in retrospect the greatest historical novel of the century, Lampedusa’s Leopard. Initially rejected for publication, even when it appeared it was greeted with bafflement by Italian critics. How could such an old-fashioned piece of work have been produced in the contemporary world? Should it be taken seriously as literature?

In fact, what Lampedusa had done was to take the same theme as Roth – the fate of an aristocracy in a dying absolutist order, amid the rise of romantic nationalism – to yet grander conclusions, in a verdict of pitiless detachment on the nation-building process in Italy, the adjustments of the old order in Sicily to it, and the fate of individuals at the crossroads between them, viewed in the light of eternity. Here, the interlocking of historical and existential registers that for Lukács and Jameson defines this form, found supreme expression in the counterpointing of the futile survival of a class and the cosmic extinction of an individual embodying it. Far from being a throwback to Victorian models, the sudden elongation of the novel’s conclusion, jumping 20 years forward to the final disintegration of the taxidermic familiar of the prince, marks The Leopard as a distinctively modern masterpiece.

Strikingly, in the same years that Lampedusa was composing his portrait of the Risorgimento in Palermo, not so far away in the Mediterranean a historical novel was moving in the opposite direction. Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairene Trilogy, depicting semi-colonial Egypt from the rise of the Wafd at the end of the First World War to the activity of Muslim Brothers and Communists during the Second through the story of a bourgeois family, was written under Farouk, and only saw the light of day after the monarchy had been overthrown, in the Sturm und Drang of the nationalisation of the Suez Canal and the Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt. Mahfouz had begun as a writer of pure costume dramas, Egyptian-style – that is, fanciful romances set in pharaonic antiquity. With the Cairene Trilogy he became a historical novelist such as Lukács has conceived one: real historical figures interwoven with fictional characters, middling heroes, a sense of popular life, and – last but not least – a powerful underlying narrative of progress, however halting or ambiguous, towards national emancipation, even if in this case, technically a Zeitroman, overlapping with his own lifetime. Here it was language rather than prejudice that isolated his work, unknown to the non-Arabophone world till its translation into French many years later.


A reclusive semi-Belgian, a dead Sicilian, an obscure Egyptian. That was about where the historical novel lay, a few antique jewels on a huge mound of trash, for some 30 years after the war. Then, abruptly, the scene changed, in one of the most astonishing transformations in literary history. Today, the historical novel has become, at the upper ranges of fiction, more widespread than it was even at the height of its classical period in the early 19th century. This resurrection has also famously been a mutation. The new forms signal the arrival of the postmodern. To discuss these with due amplitude would require another occasion. The postmodern turn has, of course, extended across virtually all the arts, with local effects distinctive to each of them. But if we consider its morphology in the literary field, there seems little doubt that the most striking single change it has wrought in fiction is the pervasive recasting of it around the past. Since postmodernism was famously defined, by Jameson himself, as the aesthetic regime of an ‘age that has forgotten how to think historically’, the resurrection of the historical novel might seem paradoxical. But this is a second coming with a difference. Now, virtually every rule of the classical canon, as spelled out by Lukács, is flouted or reversed. Among other traits, the historical novel reinvented for postmoderns may freely mix times, combining or interweaving past and present; parade the author within the narrative; take leading historical figures as central rather than marginal characters; propose counterfactuals; strew anachronisms; multiply alternative endings; traffic with apocalyptics. By no means all the historical novels in the vast range produced by accredited writers in the past 30 years exhibit these features. But the core of the revival has typically displayed some or most of them, while around it more traditional forms have proliferated too.

How are we to understand the aetiology of these forms? In a wonderful passage, Jameson speculates that the function of their ‘exaggerated inventions of a fabulous and non-existent past (and future)’ is to ‘rattle at the bars of our extinct sense of history, unsettle the emptiness of our temporal historicity, and try convulsively to reawaken the dormant existential sense of time by way of the strong medicine of lies and impossible fables, the electro-shock of repeated doses of the unreal and the unbelievable’. This is a powerful suggestion. But it raises the question of its possessive pronoun. Who is the ‘we’ of such loss of temporality, that extinction of a sense of history which is ours? Are the postmodern forms of the historical novel effectively universal today?

Certainly, if we were to make a roll-call of all those contemporary novelists who have in one respect or another contributed to the new explosion of invented pasts, the list would stretch around the world, from North America to Europe to Russia to the Subcontinent to Japan to the Caribbean and Latin America. In that sense, such forms have become as global as the postmodern itself. But if we want to track the emergence of the mutation that has produced them, and venture beyond an inventory to their taxonomy, we probably need to consider the spatial organisation of this universe.

No aesthetic timespan is ever homogeneous. The dominance of postmodern forms in the past 30 years did not, and could not, displace all others. At the opposite ends of Asia, something like the classical imagination of the historical novel lived on, producing in Indonesia and Arabia two remarkable cycles of nationalist fiction that can be regarded as, in their way, cousins of Mahfouz: Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s Buru Quartet, composed between 1975 and 1985, and Abdelrahman Munif’s quintet, Cities of Salt, written in the 1980s and already much freer in its handling of time and probability. These are novels, each starting at the turn of the 20th century, written directly out of the experience of Dutch and American imperialism. But they are outliers within the universe of postmodern re-creations of the past. To follow these, we must cross the oceans.

For in point of origin, there is little doubt where meta-historical fiction began. It was born in the Caribbean with Alejo Carpentier’s El reino de este mundo (The Kingdom of This World), which appeared in 1949, followed by his Siglo de las luces (Explosion in a Cathedral) of 1962. Settings: Haiti, Cuba, French Guyana. Five years later came García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Over the next 30 years, Latin American historical fiction became a torrent, with many tributaries beyond Carpentier and García Márquez: Roa Bastos, Carlos Fuentes, João Ubaldo Ribeiro, Fernando del Paso, Mario Vargas Llosa and many more. Here, unquestionably, was the pacemaker for the global diffusion of these forms, which, like the concept of the postmodern itself, were invented in the periphery. Not that sources in the centre were entirely missing from it: Carpentier was steeped in French surrealism; Orlando, translated by Borges, put García Márquez into a fever. But clearly, it was the historical experience of Latin America itself that gave birth to these imaginings of its past. The question is: what experience?

If we set aside individual precursors, the collective take-off of these forms dates from the early 1970s and what they transcribe, essentially, is an experience of defeat: history as what, for all its heroics, lyricism and colour, went wrong in the continent – the discarding of democracies, the crushing of guerrillas, the spread of military tyrannies, the disappearances and tortures, of that period. Hence the centrality of dictator novels in this cluster of writing. The distorted, fantastical shapes of an alternative past, according to this reading, would stem from the thwarted hopes of the present, as so many reflections, admonitions or consolations. It is difficult to deny all force to this diagnosis. But we should remember that the themes of Carpentier’s two originating works themselves, written long before the grim years of continental slaughter and repression, were the Haitian Revolution and the impact of the French Revolution in the Caribbean. These novels, founding texts of magical realism, do not minimise the disappointments and betrayals that overtook each – and which occupy much of the narrative – but their drive is wholly affirmative. The first appeared in the year the Chinese Revolution triumphed; the second just after the Bay of Pigs. Their relationship to the consolidated forms of the fiction they set in motion poses an interesting problem. Could Saramago, a historical novelist whose belated career was ignited by the Portuguese Revolution of 1974, be regarded as a collateral descendant of this now otherwise stranded moment of inception?

In the United States, by contrast, if we consider the span of historical novels of one sort or another produced in the same period, the core experiences triggering the American branch of the phenomenon would appear to be race (Styron, Morrison, Doctorow, Walker) and empire (Vidal, Pynchon, DeLillo, Mailer, Sontag). Here the most distinctive paradigm has been society as conspiracy, not the ostentatious dictator, but the secret network as the hidden ossature of rule: The Crying of Lot 49, Harlot’s Ghost, Gravity’s Rainbow, Underworld – a literature of paranoia offering its own kind of black-magical realism. In Europe, on the other hand, it has been, not the CIA, but the Third Reich and the Judeocide that have polarised historical imagination: Grass, Tournier, Sebald. England, relatively untouched by the Second World War, has generated instead mostly Victoriana – Fowles, Farrell, Ackroyd, Byatt, Carey (an Australian extension) – or reversions to the much more traumatic First World War, as in Pat Barker’s trilogy.

Military tyranny; race murder; omnipresent surveillance; technological war; and programmed genocide. The persistent backdrops to the historical fiction of the postmodern period are at the antipodes of its classical forms. Not the emergence of the nation, but the ravages of empire; not progress as emancipation, but impending or consummated catastrophe. In Joycean terms, history as a nightmare from which we still cannot wake up. But if we look, not at the sources or themes of this literature, but at its forms, Jameson suggests we should reverse the judgment. The postmodern revival, by throwing verisimilitude to the winds, fabricating periods and outraging probabilities, ought rather to be seen as a desperate attempt to waken us to history, in a time when any real sense of it has gone dead.

Still, he concludes, in just these conditions does not the Lukácsian connection between great social events and the existential fate of individuals remain typically out of reach? Benjamin, who detested the idea of progress nurtured by 19th-century historicism, would not have been surprised, or perhaps felt much regret. He used yet another image of awakening. The angel of history is moving away from something he stares at. ‘Where a chain of events appears before us, he sees one single catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it at his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead and make whole what has been smashed.’ Part of the impulse behind the contemporary historical novel may also lie here.

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n15/perry-anderson/from-progress-to-catastrophe