Saturday, August 18, 2018

George Steiner's theory of the origins of Jew-hatred

....As the global capitalist crisis intensifies, the resurgence of Jew-hatred and attacks on Jews and synagogues is a reminder that the Holocaust and what led to it are not matters of "history." They are growing realities of the brutal imperialist world order today.

....Jew hatred is a product of capitalism in decay. Its ultimate purpose is to divert workers from a united militant struggle by promoting the poisonous lie that the problem is not capitalism, but evil Jewish capitalists. And it goes hand in hand with fascism, which proclaims that the solution is not internationalism and workers taking power and replacing the dictatorship of capital through revolutionary struggle, but "national socialism," the polar opposite of the course fought for by communists since the time of Marx and Engels.

As the worldwide capitalist crisis deepens, Jew-hatred will continue to erupt. Class-conscious workers must oppose it everywhere it rears its head.

Jew-hatred is the safety valve employed to blame the Jews for a decade of a slow-burning capitalist crisis. It is a default, the automatic go-to that seethes up when the capitalist ruling class begins to fear potential for independent labor political action.

This is an ABC of Marxism we forget at our peril.

There are other explanations for Jew-hatred. They are usually ahistorical and materially obscurantist. One such is the viewpoint of critic/scholar George Steiner, though I see echoes of it elsewhere, too. Steiner's explanation for Jew-hatred has, like much that he writes, a bravura intellectual elegance.

But a class perspective, not an academic petty bourgeois perspective, is the only true and reliable one.



Expert from A Long Saturday:
George Steiner (2017)

L.A. You reread the history of the roots of anti-Semitism in a very original way, in quite a surprising or even, for some specialists, arrogant way. You explain that the sudden rise of anti-Semitism was not because the Jews crucified Jesus but because the fact that Jews gave birth to God made Christians jealous of them—jealous to the point of extreme madness and murder.

G.S. In three instances Judaism has held mankind hostage in the most tormenting manner. First, with the Mosaic Law. Monotheism is the least natural thing in the world. When the ancient Greeks say there are ten thousand gods, it's natural, logical, delightful; they inhabit the world with beauty, reconciliation. The Jew responds: "Unimaginable! You can't have an image of God, you can't have a conception of him other than an ethical, moral one. He is an all-powerful God; he avenges himself to the third generation, etc." The Mosaic Law, the morality of monotheism, is terrible: that was the first act of blackmail.

The second instance: Christianity. You have Jesus, the Jew, who enjoins people: "You will give everything you have to the poor. You will sacrifice for others. Altruism isn't a virtue, it's the very duty of mankind. You will live humbly." This is a fundamentally Judaic message: the Sermon on the Mount is made up of quotes, you know, from Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Amos.

And the third time you have Marx, who proclaims, "If you have a fine house with three empty rooms and there are people all around you who have no home, you are the basest swine." There is no possible defense for human egotism, greed, the lust for money, success. What did the revolutionary Saint-Just say? Happiness is a new idea in Europe. What did Marx say? Justice, a new idea in Europe. Enough of these terrible inequalities. Beggars are increasing on the sidewalks of our capitals—in Paris and in London.

Three times, Jews have demanded, "Become a person. Become human." It's frightening. And then as a side note, Freud comes and takes away our dreams. He doesn't even let us dream in peace. As for the great prophets, Isaiah declared himself the one who wakes us in the night, the one whose cries will awaken the city. Jeremiah pleads, "Wake up! Stop sleeping!" But it's really mean to deprive us of our petty bourgeois sleep. Sleeping well is the luxury of the bourgeoisie, the middle classes. People who are starving never enjoy a good sleep. And Freud comes along and takes away even that. No, really, when Hitler declared in his Table Talk (Tischgespräche) that "the Jew invented conscience," he was right. Absolutely. It was actually a profound statement from that evil man. When Solzhenitsyn, whom I consider a great man, though detestable, says that "the virus of communism, of Bolshevism, is totally Jewish and has infected the holy Virgin of Kazan and Russian theocracy," he happens to be quite correct from a historical perspective. We can be proud of this, or we can deplore it. But anti-Semitism is a kind of human cry, "Leave me alone!" It's a cry against the moral pestering Judaism represents. And I don't think it can be eliminated. The crisis in the Middle East is only getting more severe. On the one hand there is an anti-Semitic Left in the so-called liberal countries, and on the other you have the Baptists, the most fascist-leaning neo-conservatives in the United States—there are fifty million of them in the southeastern U.S.—who were sending money and arms to Sharon when he was prime minister: "Yes! Bravo! You have to keep the infidel away from the Nazarene Country." Yes, they call Israel the Nazarene Country. These are cruel, sadistic absurdities, disgusting alliances.

Once again, history is going to be very dangerous. Every person lives his life while delving into his inner world. When I get up in the morning, I tell myself this story, so I can make it through the day: God announces that he's sick of us. Really. "I'm fed up!" In ten days, the flood. The real one. No Noah this time. That was a mistake. The Holy Father tells the Catholics, "Very well. It's God's will. You will pray. You will forgive each other. You will gather your families and wait for the end." The Protestants say, "You will settle your financial affairs. Your affairs must be completely settled. You will gather your families and you will pray." The rabbi says, "Ten days? But that's more than enough time to learn how to breathe under water!" And every day that magnificent story gives me the strength and happiness to live my life. And I believe it, deeply: ten days is indeed a long time.

L.A. What do you think of the almost global rise in anti-Semitism?

G.S. I had hoped that at the end of my life (that is, now) the legacy of the Shoah would be calmed, that a certain reconciliation would have occurred naturally in Europe, but that hasn't been the case; today the waves of anti-Semitism, hatred of Jews, are cresting around us everywhere. You wouldn't have thought that possible only a few years ago. In Hungary, Romania, Poland, there are hardly any Jews anymore, but anti-Semitism has endured. And in my beloved England, I hate to tell you, the signs, indications of anti-Semitism, are increasing; there are academic boycotts against Jewish scientists, even in England. And a very profound sense of unease is developing in the face of this. And the incredible irony is that in Ukraine now it's Putin who is denouncing anti-Semitism. It's a scenario worthy of Kafka! Everywhere, the great wave is growing again, except, perhaps, in the U.S. I'm not talking about revisionism (which has followers in France); I'm talking about those who think of themselves as open-minded but feel increasingly ill at ease in the presence of Jews....

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