Gilad Atzmon on “the Jewish Solidarity Spin”

I am taking the liberty of republishing this, not because I agree with everything in it, but because it contains a great deal of profound material that Marxist critics of Zionism and its supporters, Jewish and non-Jewish, in the advanced capitalist world, ought to find invaluable.

This is despite Atzmon’s jaundiced view of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and his erroneous belief that it had something in common with the crimes of Israel and Zionism today. This is a serious flaw in his often very sharp and perceptive understanding of the crippling of Palestinian solidarity by Jewish chauvinism and capitulation to Zionism. In my view Atzmon’s prejudice against Bolshevism is most likely derived from a narrow reading of a very disgraceful history in which pseudo-radical left-Zionist currents, many of which indeed had their origins in currents derived tangentially from the Russian Revolution, played a barbaric role in the Naqba while continuing to preach about working class unity and speak a debased form of pseudo-internationalist language.

But in order to do this, these left-chauvinist currents had to break decisively with the basic Marxist concepts of internationalism. A few exceptional individuals broke from these positions in the opposite direction, from this debased ‘far-left’ Zionism to genuine Communism; the most obvious being Abram Leon, author of the seminal Marxist analysis of Jewish history, his work The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation that builds on Marx’s own often maligned insights into Jewish history and which actually explains how Jews managed to preserve themselves as a kind of ‘people’ whose basis of existence was not common language or territory, but a common social function connected to money economy in pre-capitalist societies.

Leon never lived to see Israel’s foundation: he in fact died in Auschwitz at the hands of the Nazis. But his insight pointed the way to understanding how the Jewish part of the bourgeoisie in capitalist society acquired a disproportionate social weight. In the earlier part of the imperialist epoch when nationalism and national conflict drove European imperialist expansion, this phenomenon contributed to creating the conditions for terrible and bloody victimisation of Jews of all classes. Now, in a different situation, it has led to Jews attaining a highly privileged position in advanced capitalist-imperialist countries who are waging wars of conquest and domination against large sections of the Arab/Muslim world. See the draft Theses on the Jews and Modern Imperialism, on this site, for more elaboration.

The kind of ideological disorientation expressed by Gilad Atzmon is hardly unique, even if it comes from a novel angle. It was once observed of the struggle of the Trotskyist movement that their whole mission was to rescue the authentic traditions of the Russian Revolution from being buried under “a mountain of dead dogs”.

This is an ongoing battle. It has not been successful for now, and indeed in a sense can never be completely successful. For it is not simply lectures about history that will solve the problems of future revolutionary conjunctures in world politics, but concrete breakthroughs in the collective understanding of the masses about their own struggles and the way to victory. In that regard, Atzmon’s own insights about the role of exclusivist and disguised chauvinist Jewish ‘left’ currents in the Palestinian solidarity movement, in diluting its message and steering it into ‘safe’ territory is valuable, and well worth examining and considering, even if Marxists cannot share all his concepts.

It is a fact that the most perceptive analysts of matters concerning the Jewish Question have often been of Jewish origin themselves. From Karl Marx to Abram Leon, this has taken on a fully conscious, working class and revolutionary communist manifestation. In the contemporary situation of ideological confusion with the betrayal and decline of the moral and political influence of Marxism, this has taken confused forms, with over the Israeli Question, for instance, some of the most courageous Jewish opponents of Jewish racism being non-Marxists whose criticisms were often too cutting for those who claimed to be Marxists, but had made their peace with Zionism and Jewish exclusivism. In that sense, Atzmon, the late Israel Shahak, and others of the same ilk stand closer to the real spirit of Bolshevism, as the ‘Tribune of the Oppressed”, than their formal ideas would lead one to otherwise believe.

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4 comments

  1. Pingback: Ian Donovan: Gilad Atzmon on “the Jewish Solidarity Spin” | Uprootedpalestinians's Blog
  2. Ian

    Putin is in a very odd position, isn’t he? He owes his position to his being a KGB cadre, trained by the Stalinist regime which in turn would never have existed without the seizure of power by the working class in 1917. But he also tries to appeal to Russian nationalists who hate it that the October Revolution ever happened. Not an easy thing to sustain.

    Any revolutionary party in an oppressor state should have disproportionate representation of those oppressed by that state. If that is not true, that shows the party has a real problem. In Russia, this meant Jews and other minorities. But of course the nationalists of the dominant people will whip up hostility and demonology about this. Its just obvious tactics.

    Jews use this tactic today to demonise those who they oppress, Look at Netanyahu’s tactics in the recent Israeli election, screaming that ‘the Arabs are voting in large numbers’ to get the Jewish vote out. Russian nationalists have used it in the past. Even though things have changed enormously since the time when Jews were an oppressed population in Russia, this sentiment was preserved by Stalinism as if in a deep-freeze. Putin, despite his contradictions., has to appeal to it, at least sometimes.

    I note that on his blog, Rehmat claims that “all five members of the First Peoples’ Commissariat, were Jewish.” This is a myth, as the original People’s Commisariat had a lot more than five members. Here is the list

    “Chairman: V. I. Lenin
    Commissar of Agriculture: V. P. Milyutin
    Commissars of Army and Navy: V. A. Ovseyenko, N. V. Krylenko, P. V. Dybenko
    Commissar of Commerce and Industry: V. P. Nogin
    Commissar of Education: A. V. Lunacharsky
    Commissar of Food: I. A. Teodorovich
    Commissar of Foreign Affairs: L. D. Trotsky
    Commissar of Interior: A. I. Rykov
    Commissar of Justice: G. I. Oppokov
    Commissar of Labour: A. G. Shlyapnikov
    Commissar of Nationality Affairs: I. V. Stalin
    Commissar of Post and Telegraphs: N. P. Avilov
    Commissar of Railways: [vacant]
    Commissar of Treasury: I. I. Skvortsov-Stepanov”

    see https://www.marxists.org/glossary/orgs/c/o.htm

    Apparently the above list omitted a couple, of Russians,
    State Property – Karelin V.A.
    Local Government: Trutovsky V.E.
    (see below)

    I make this 16, or 18 counting the last two, members of the original Peoples’ Commissariat, largely Russian but with significant Jewish representation. Which is how it should have been.

    There is also an ethnic breakdown of not only the Sovnarkom, but also a lot of the other prominent Bolsheviks who were not in this body, available here (http://vnnforum.com/showthread.php?t=29409):

    “First members of Council of People’s Commissars (State in contrast to Party):

    Chairman: V. I. Lenin – 1/4 Russian, Tatar, German, Jewish
    Commissar of Agriculture: V. P. Milyutin – Russian
    Army and Navy: V. A. Ovseyenko, N. V. Krylenko, P. V. Dybenko – Russians
    Commerce and Industry: V. P. Nogin – Russian
    Education: A. V. Lunacharsky – Ukrainian
    Food: I. A. Teodorovich – Polish
    Foreign Affairs: L. D. Trotsky – Jewish
    Interior: A. I. Rykov – Russian
    Justice: G. I. Oppokov – Russian
    Labour: A. G. Shlyapnikov – Russian
    Nationality Affairs: I. V. Stalin – Georgian
    Post and Telegraphs: N. P. Avilov – Russian
    Treasury: I. I. Skvortsov-Stepanov – Russian
    State Property – Karelin V.A., Russian
    Local Government: Trutovsky V.E., Russian

    Thus, there was one single Jew out of about 18.

    Additional notables added afterwards coming to mind include:
    Internal Affairs: F. E Dzerzhinski – Polish
    Social Welfare: A.M Kollontai – 1/2 Ukrainian, Finnish

    Lenin – Russian (also part Jewish, apparently)
    Bubnov – Russian
    Kamenev – (Paternal) Jewish; Lost spot in 1926
    Trotsky – Jewish. Lost spot in 1926
    Stalin – Georgian
    Krestinsky – Jewish convert to Christianity.
    Zinoviev – Jewish. Lost spot in 1926
    Bukharin – Russian
    Rykov – Russian
    Tomsky (real name Efremov) – Russian
    Molotov (real name Scriabin) – Russian
    Kalinin – Russian
    Kuibyshev – Russian
    Grigory Yakovlevich Sokolnikov – Jewish
    Dzerzhinsky – Polish
    Frunze – Romanian
    Voroshilov – Russian
    Rudzutak – Latvian
    Petrovsky – Ukrainian
    Uglanov – Russian
    Ordzhokinidze – Georgian
    Andreyev – Russian
    Kirov – Russian
    Mikoyan – Armenian
    Kaganovich – Jewish. Purged in 1956
    Chubar – Ukrainian
    Kossior – Ukrainian
    Karl Yanovich Bauman – Latvian
    Syrtsov – Russian
    Postyshev – Ukrainian
    Zhdanov – From Ukraine; gentile.
    Eikhe – Latvian
    Yezhov – Russian
    Khrushchev – Ukrainian
    Beria – Georgian
    Shvernik – Latvian ”

    There is much myth-making about this aspect of history, often based on the simplistic view that because the Zionists use victimology based on some of the most tragic elements of Jewish history to justify their crimes today, then that history must be flatly untrue. But that is erroneous All kinds of reversals are possible in history, and that of Jews is one of the most dramatic. Denying the oppression of Jews in the past does not help the victims of oppression by Jews today; it just helps the oppressors to slander their victims in front of third parties, as having something in common with the old oppressors, Tsarism and the Nazis.

    And in the case of Bolshevism, it means not only a wildly wrong understanding of history; it also means rejecting revolutionary strategy and tactics that are of vital importance for the oppressed today.

    Myths about history do not serve the oppressed, but the oppressor, in so many ways, both indirect and direct. Sometimes in order to serve the oppressed best, it is necessary to tell unpopular truths. The truth about the development of Jews into an oppressor people is anything but popular today on the Western left. But there are elements of false consciousness that are popular among the oppressed also, and only harm the oppressed in many complex ways. These must also be criticised and opposed.

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