Corbyn and his Sturmabteilung: is this serious political debate?
As many readers of this Blog, often the majority, are not from the UK, this is a stark reminder to them of how far things have go with us.
Left Socialist Blog
Spain in Our Hearts. Americans in the Spanish Civil War. 1936 – 1939. Adam Hochschild. Macmillan. 2016.
Arthur Koestler wrote in 1937 of Spain’s civil war, “Other wars consist of a succession of battles; this one is a succession of tragedies.” (Spanish Tragedy) As a Soviet agent, a correspondent with the Republican Army who had been captured and then freed from Franco’s gaols, the author of Darkness at Noon (1940) embodied the sadness of twentieth century history. In that record the Spanish conflict was exceptional. Spain in Our Heart opens by noting that the Caudillo launched the “fiercest conflict in Europe since the First World War marked by a vindictive savagery not seen even then.” (P xiv).
Hochschild is the author the landmark Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves (2005). It put centre stage the activism of Thomas Clarkson, the radical Quaker and admirer of the French Revolution in the British campaign against slavery. The present work explores the lives of American (and three Englishmen) involved in Spain, International Brigade volunteers and reporters, Hochschild manages the difficult task of honouring those who fought for the Spanish Republic without losing sight of the broader catastrophe in which they had become involved.
2,800 Americans fought in Spain’s battles, with an estimated 750 dying during these crucial years in the country’s history. About three quarters of the US volunteers were members of the Communist Party, or its youth league. With the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, the Great Depression sweeping the world, the Soviet Union “became a place into which millions of people projected their hopes.” (Page 11)
Some had not stay at a distance building dreams of the Soviet Union. In 1935 the Merriman couple moved from Berkley to Moscow, as Robert, Bob studied the newly collectivised farming joined by his wife, Marion. But fired up in 1936 by the defence of the elected Popular Front government against far-right military rebellion the couple, despite her misgivings, left for the Iberian Peninsula. As they arrived in 1937 the drama of the desperate combats, socialist, anarchist and republican democrats facing the anti-Semite, feudal and arch-Catholic Franco-led military rebellion with its reactionary social support, was already unfolding.
As a an officer in the US Army reserve, with ROTC training (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) fresh from Moscow (with an exaggerated ‘year’ at a Communist Academy’), Merriman was appointed by that harshest of task-masters André Marty, the American Lincoln Brigade’s second-in-command. He joined the Spanish Communist Party. The volunteers, few of whom “had ever been under military discipline”, were flung into the battle to defend the Madrid-Valencia road. It did not help that their arms, from the only country willing to supply them the Soviet Union, initially were as antiquated and obsolete as to be “barely usable”. The Spaniards called one set of artillery pieces “the battery of Catherine the Great” (Page 118)
Wounded under fire, his wife Marion accompanied Bob, and joined up to work in International Brigades Headquarters in Albacete. He was a committed supporter of the Soviet Union. Above all, “Physically fearless, he inspired such loyalty that at least two Lincoln veterans would name children after him.” (Page 289) Spain in our Hearts does not lose sight of this brave couple, right to the final confirmation, in 1987, of how Bob Merriman died under Nationalist fire in Gadensa.
Hochschild traces the stories of many others engaged in the fight to defend the Republic, including those who perished in the increasingly difficult journey to Spain. There is the Briton Pat Gurney, Oliver Law, the black CP organiser appointed Captain, the machine-gunner David McKelvy White, and Toby Neugass of the mobile American medical team. There was also Vincent Usera, who resurfaced in the US Navel Academy in 1939 lecturing on the war. With a full US military career during the Second World War, he ended in military intelligence. One of his last posts was “as a military adviser in Vietnam” (Page 233).
The US ‘Moral Embargo’.
Could America have been brought to support the Republic? A propaganda and information war was fought out in the American press. In the New York Times there was an “indirect duel” between the reporter on the republican side, Herbert Matthews, and the very pro-Franco William P. Carney.
A film, directed by Communist fellow-traveller Joris Ivens, The Spanish Earth, which involved Hemingway, which many expected would powerfully influence American opinion in favour of the elected government, failed to change Franklin Roosevelt’s decision to back a “Moral embargo” on weapon sales – while Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy showered military support on Franco The official arms ban was accompanied by turning a blind eye to Texaco boss, and dictator admirer, Torkild Rieber’s gift to Franco of an “unstinting stream” of oil, on credit. (Page 248) When, in 1938, there was an apparent move toward lifting of the embargo, it never materialised.
Spain in our Hearts both brings to life individual lives, through memoirs, books, letters, through events, grief and passion, and to make cautious points about the battles going on inside the Republican camp. It lends support to the view that winning the war had to be a priority over social revolution. He asks if the moral economy of the collectivised enterprises in Catalonia and elsewhere would have long survived in their initial, pure, non-capitalist co-operative form. In the event the Spanish Communists and Socialists were determined in an attempt to win middle class support and international respectability, to restore market norms and crush the anarchists and independent Marxists of the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista. Partit Obrer d’Unificació Marxista) along with this spontaneous socialisation. Was it also possible to run an army democratically? Some would agree that it was equally right to end this experiment. Ernest Hemingway said, “I like Communists when they’re soldiers. When they’re priests I hate them” (Page 290)
Could the Communist military commissars escape the paranoia and distorted morality of the Stalin priesthood? Not everybody was a hero of the stamp of Bob Merriman. Louis Fisher, who appears in the present volume as the quartermaster of the International Brigade, wrote that “André Marty, French Communist leader and the chief commissar of the Brigade “loved power and abused it, in the GPU way, through nocturnal arrest sand similar outrages.” (In The God That Failed. 1950)
Perhaps this is the final judgement of this deeply researched, insightful, and moving work. Portraying the devastation wrought to secure Franco’s victory and its aftermath, Hochschild states, “If the Republic had won, Spaniards would not have had to endure 36 years of Franco’s ruthless dictatorship.”(P 353)
Corbyn and his Sturmabteilung: is this serious political debate?
As many readers of this Blog, often the majority, are not from the UK, this is a stark reminder to them of how far things have go with us.
Michael Foster, who has given party £400,000, says he did not use word ‘Nazi’ in piece referring to leader’s Sturmabteilung.
The Labour party has suspended a prominent donor for likening Jeremy Corbyn’s team to Nazi storm troopers.
Michael Foster, a former celebrity agent who has donated more than £400,000 to the party, said the Labour leader and his team had “no respect for others and worse, no respect for the rule of law”.
His comments were published in article published in the Mail on Sunday, titled: “Why I despise Jeremy Corbyn and his Nazi stormtroopers’, by Jewish Labour donor Michael Foster.”
The piece appeared on 14 August after the high court ruled against Foster’s bid to stop Corbyn from being automatically allowed to stand for re-election as leader.
The former Labour parliamentary candidate in Camborne and Redruth said: “To me, respect for the rule of law is fundamental to a democracy.
“The courts decided that the rules as they stand allowed it. This decision advantaged Corbyn and his Sturm Abteilung (stormtroopers).”
Foster has said that he did not use the word “Nazi” in his article, but it was included in the headline by the Mail on Sunday.
This is what the relevant section of the article says,
To me, respect for the rule of law is fundamental to a democracy. Once political parties believe they are above the law it ends with all opposition silenced, whether it is my grandparents in Dachau, or the Left in Erdogan’s Turkey rounded up and held uncharged in prison.
The courts decided that the rules as they stand allowed it. This decision advantaged Corbyn and his Sturm Abteilung (stormtroopers), but on Friday afternoon the Appeal Court handed down a big decision for British democracy.
It disallowed the attempt by arriviste followers of Corbyn to flood the Labour electoral college. This caused the mask of reasonableness of the Corbynista leadership to slip even further.
Suddenly the most holy of holies, the NEC, was labelled a shoddy organisation capable of using a ‘grubby little device’. Cross this lot and you are straight into the firing line.
Corbyn no longer has a clear path in his bid to destroy the Labour Party as we have known it in Government and in Opposition for the past 70 years.
The Mirror adds,
Mr Foster insists his remarks referred to Mr Corbyn’s “leadership cadre”, and could just as easily have compared them to the “Pretorian Guard or Revolutionary Guard or Red Guard – a group there to secure the leader and his political plans.”
There are already voices from the left calling, ironically or not, for support for Foster against the decision to suspend him…
This is not the only example of complete political hysteria and confusion in the Labour Party.
A few days ago there was this, from Owen Smith, candidate to lead the Labour Party, during the debate with Jeremy Corbyn on Question Time.
Mr Smith said: “Under Jeremy’s leadership, we’ve seen people coming into the Labour party from the hard-left of politics people who are bringing into our party anti-Semitic attitudes and that cannot be acceptable,
“There are people on the far left of the Labour party who are flooding in to our party and that’s their word, not mine.The Alliance of Workers Liberty only a couple of weeks ago said ‘let’s flood into the Labour party’.
“Just the other day I saw a tweet purporting to be from Jeremy’s team to members of a hard-left group saying ‘you’re welcome to come to Jeremy’s rallies, just leave the flags and banners at home’. And the reason for that is we’ve seen some of those flags and banners at some of Jeremy’s rallies and unfortunately some of those people are bringing in attitudes to our party from the hard-left that I don’t think is welcome.”
“There are people who have come from the AWL and the SWP (Socialist Workers Party) and some of the other left-wing groups which have either not been part of the Labour party or have been proscribed by the Labour party and some of those people are advocating joining the Labour party in order to support Jeremy and in order to control the Labour party. Some of the people around Jeremy are absolutely encouraging it, of that there is no doubt.”
The AWL replied (in our view, in measured terms),
On BBC Question Time (Labour leadership debate, 8 September) Owen Smith, in the stream-of-consciousness style that has come to typify Smith’s approach to political debate, links the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (as part of the “hard left in our Party” “flooding into the Party”) to those on the left who “associate anti-Zionism, anti-imperialism”, “anti-Israel” perspectives (sic). That is, he implicitly called us anti-semitic.
This incoherent tirade against the “hard left” was a disgraceful intervention into an important issue that deserves serious, well-informed debate.
Smith’s comments referred back to an earlier exchange with Jeremy Corbyn in the programme in which he accused Corbyn of not doing enough to make the Party a safe place for Jewish members; and the hard left (which would, he implied include the AWL, were causing this problem). There were other accusations streamed into Smith’s tirade, but let’s focus on the accusation of anti-semitism.
You don’t have to know very much about what the AWL stands for, agree with the AWL’s two-state position on Israel-Palestine, or even be very left-wing to be aware that any accusation of “left anti-semitism” against us, however half-stated, is ludicrous. We have spent many years exposing, analysing and fighting this phenomena and it has not won us many friends on the organised hard left!
Livingstone: How Long, How Long, How Very Long He’s Gone.
This Blog has not gone into the details of the rows and distressing state of the Labour Party debate.
Nor has it made it more than generally clear that we support a vote for Jeremy Corbyn, though like many on the long-standing left we are not uncritical.
For the moment I will leave it that this, but something has now happened that calls for some comment.
We would wish that this individual is not a Corbyn supporter.
We would prefer to have nothing whatsoever to do with Livingstone.
We wish he would just shut his gob and go away.
The Daily Mirror has just reported this.
Ken Livingstone took to the airwaves this morning to defend former Labour colleague Keith Vaz today, but ended up in a lengthy defence of his own comments about Hitler.
The former Labour Mayor of London told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire he believed “someone’s private life should remain private.”
He said he didn’t think Mr Vaz paying for sex was a conflict of interest with his role on the Home Affairs select committee.
He said: “I don’t think the fact, if it turns out to be true, that he has paid for sex prevents him from conducting an inquiry into prostitution and the problems of prostitution.
“The problem with prostitution is what happens to the poor prostitutes and not so much their clients.”
Mr Livingstone said in the 40 years he’s been a colleague of Mr Vaz, he never recalled him mentioning sex or drugs.
He added: “Do you judge someone’s political career on the basis of one incident like this, or on the total of four decades. Everyone makes mistakes.”
Host Victoria Derbyshire asked Mr Livingstone about his suspension for “bringing the Labour Party into disrepute”, over comments he made linking Hitler with Zionism.
He replied: “I’m still waiting for the committee to sit down and decide whether what I said was true or not.
“I think they keep putting it off because the simple fact is I’ve got so much evidence that says what I’m saying is true.”
He went on to say that the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem sells pamphlets to tourists about the “deal” Hitler did with the Zionists.
“I’ve got so much evidence,” he insisted.
Mr Livingstone insisted he’d never said Hitler was a Zionist.
“To suggest Hitler was a Zionist is mad,” he said. “He loathed and feared Jews all his life.
But he did do a deal with the Zionist movement in the 1930s, and that led to 66,000 German Jews going to what is now Israel, and escaping the Holocaust.”
He said people should “go on websites”, and cited “dozens and dozens of books” which confirm that Hitler did a “deal” with the Zionist movement throughout the 1930s.
Asked if he was bothered about offending British Jews, he said: “If anyone has been offended by what I said, I’m truly sorry about that.
“But I’ve been struck by the number of people who’ve come up to me on the street and said “I’m Jewish, I know what you said is true. Don’t give in to this bullying.”
Spontaneous anti-fascist demonstration after Mecklenburg-Vorpommern result.
Deutsche Welle reports,
Politicians blame Merkel’s refugee policy for defeat in regional elections
Chancellor Angela Merkel received heavy criticism from her opponents as well as from within her own ranks. Her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), came third place in state elections in her home state.
The CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), blamed the chancellor and her open-door policy on refugees for the shocking result in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Bavarian finance minister Markus Söder said that receiving fewer than 20 percent of the overall vote in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania should serve as a “wake-up call” with regards to her refugee policy.
Söder told the Monday morning edition of the regional daily newspaper “Nürnberger Nachrichten” that Merkel needed to adopt a hard line on migrants.
“It is no longer possible to ignore people’s views on this issue. Berlin needs to change tack,” Söder said.Merkel’s CDU lost a great number of votes to the newly established “Alternative for Germany” party (AfD), which managed to come second-place in the regional elections in the northeastern state.
In addition to Merkel’s CDU’s bad results of only 19 percent of the vote, her federal government coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), also suffered a major setback. While the centre-left SPD managed to garner a better-than-forecast 30.6 percent in Sunday’s election, it too lost several percents of its voter base to the AfD.
The AfD had targeted Merkel’s CDU and her coalition partner, the SPD, since her decision a year ago not to close Germany’s border to refugees arriving from war zones such as Syria and Iraq via Hungary and Austria.
We add, Die Linke also lost 52 % and Die Grünen 3,9%.
Initial analysis of the vote, Wer wählte die AfD? (Die Linke sympathising, Neues Deutschland) indicates the following.
From an inquiry into 60,000 new voters for the anti-immigrant party, the AFD gained support from the following parties 19 000 from the already far-right, NPD 23 000 from the CDU, 18 000 from Die Linke, and 16 000 from the SPD.
Amongst men voters the AfD support levelled with the SPD, particularity amongst those between 25 to 59 years old.
22% of AfD voters are self-employed, , 19 % administrative/clerical employes, including 17% in the public sector.
Amongst those of a medium educational level the AFD also scored level with the SDP.
Update: le Monde.
The AfD, founded in 2013, from being the “teachers’ party”, campaigning against the Euro and for conservative issues, has become increasingly ‘populist’ opposed to the ‘old parties’ and mobilising around the themes of identity (against immigration) and security.
A survey, comparing national support for the AfD from 2015 to 2016 shows its social base, notably support amongst the young.
C’est d’abord le cas des chômeurs (15 % se disent proches du parti, 4 % en 2015), des ouvriers (11 %, + 6 points), des moins de 30 ans (10 %, + 5 points) et des habitants de l’ex-Allemagne de l’Est (11 %, + 5 points). A l’Ouest, en revanche, ils ne sont que 3 % (un point de plus qu’en 2015).
First of all they have backing from the unemployed (15% in 2015, 4% in 2014), workers (11%, up 6%O, the under 30s (10%, up 5 points) and those living in the former GDR (11%, 5 points ore). In the West they remain at 3% (1% up from 2015).
in Der Spiegel Christian Teevs says, that the SPD has no alternative, and that “In Mecklenburg-Vorpommern profitierte nur die AfD. Alle anderen Parteien haben verloren.” – only the AfD has gained. All the other parties have lost.”
A very comprehensive Wikipedia entry is here: The Alternative for Germany (German: Alternative für Deutschland, AfD)
After 15 Years what do they have to show for it all?
Our conference next month marks the 15th anniversary of our movement. A time to say no to all the wars arising from the war on terror. And to continue our commitment to opposing the system our government is at the heart of, imperialism.
If the StWC is opposed to all wars “arising from the war on terror”, and it bases its opposition on being against ‘imperialism’ is the StWC simply an ‘anti-imperialist’ group.
The confusion that has lain for years over the StWC comes from this source.
It can be ‘against’ Western, and specifically UK, involvement in ‘bombing Syria’ but it has absolutely no answer to the multiple wars in that region, except being against the one force they identity as ‘imperialist’ – the US and its direct allies.
Who are opposed to Assad, who is backed by the Russian Federation, and Iran.
Who are not – officially – supported by the StWC because the StWC is against all ‘foreign’ involvement in Syria – even (they officially) claim those fighting ‘imperialism’, like Assad.
Who the US and its NATO allies oppose.
But even here, since some US allies, such as the Saudis and the Gulf states, back non-ISIS jihadist forces to the US against Assad and against…the Kurds.
Who, a progressive left force, are supported (in the shape of the YPG) by the Americans…
Who have been driven to oppose to Turkey, its ally, when they fight the Kurds..
Who are also…
Well, we could go on.
Stopping the War is clearly not on the cards in Syria, nor has the slogan any meaning in dealing with the fighting in Iraq.
StWC claims not to “take sides” in Syria, but somehow be to be against “war” without being pacifists – that it absolutely against any violence.
But the violence continues, and there is no such thing as a non ‘intervening’ side when not doing something is to let things, continue…
The incoherence of the position of the STWC is to imagine, or at least claim, that they are both au-dessus de la Mêlée and anti-imperialist.
But we all incoherent faced with the mass killings taking place.
But failing to stand up for human decency in the face of the genocides taking place and saying, in effect, “none of our business”, leave a nasty taste in the mouth.
Most people have simply walked away from this crew.
Let the Festivities Commence!
It would be churlish not to leave the StWC with some crumbs of comfort.
In a note of self-celebration and a much needed pat on the pat, German also states today,
We did a great thing collectively with Stop the War. We have maintained it as an organisation and in the past year have seen a considerable increase in support, despite (or perhaps because of) the attacks on Corbyn. We are, I think, the major anti-war movement in any Nato country. The attacks from the right over the Syria bombing vote in 2013 showed the legacy of the movement and what damage we did. Ditto the Syria vote last year, used as a vicious attack on Jeremy Corbyn (and joined in by the pro-intervention left). There are many issues to debate about our history, and still a job to combat interventions in the Middle East and through Nato expansion.
But no, let us continue churlishly.
In reality all that remains of this “great thing” is that the StWC struggled to get a couple of thousand people at its last demonstration (November 2015) and barely more than a couple of hundred at the CND anti-Trident protest outside Parliament this July.
One notes who they chose as a speaker at the November event.
And this sprightly new face, before his more recent Brexit campaigning:
The major reason for their decline is that the StWC is as we have just seen, an irrelevance in the face of the events unfolding in the Middle East.
Another is that the group, no doubt caught up in what Counterfire calls the ‘actuality of the revolution’ feels free to expound on a variety of issues with a less than direct link to war.
It published this tissue of lies a few days ago:
These are some of the most shameful episodes in the treatment of Muslim women in France that I can recall. They are state sponsored bullying and racism pure and simple. Islamophobia is only one form of racism, although it is the major one in Europe today. But it is the only one which targets the behaviour and dress of women in particular, and tried to alter this behaviour in the most draconian way.
German shamefully tries to link the ban on the Burkini to French international interventions.
She can barely resist saying of the atrocities, “they had it coming to them…”
France has also been increasingly strongly involved in interventions in Muslim countries, most notably Syria and Libya, which have led to increases in the level of terrorism.
Without going into great detail about the issue we simply note.
La Fin de l’intellectual français? De Zola à Houellebecq. Shlomo Sand. La Découverte. 2016.
Internationally celebrated for The Invention of the Jewish People (2009) Shlomo Sand is a redoubtable controversialist. That study, which argued that those following the Jewish religion only began to consider themselves a “people” during the Middle Ages, continues to be debated. Sand’s assertion that most Jews owes their origins to religious conversion, and not to ancient Hebrew origins, was intended to strike at the heart of the “National Myth” of the state of Israel. How I stopped Being a Jew (2013) announced a wish to break with “tribal Judocentrism”. Warmth for the secular ideals of Israel, and for the Hebrew language, has not protected him from vigorous criticism from a wide variety of Zionist critics.
La Fin de l’intellectuel français has equally iconoclastic ambitions. Apart from frequent autobiographical notes, during which we learn he was once a Marxist who wished to change the world, it is no less than a charge, an accusation, against Europe, and against France in particular: that the Continent is lifting the drawbridges against the “Muslim foreigners”. A “contagious plague” of Islamophobia, uniting left secularists and traditional nationalists, has infected the Hexagone. For Sand, “media intellectuals” (intellectuels médiatiques) both circulate this “code” and pile up its symbolic property. “A une vitesse suprenante, une puissante intelligentsia médiatique s’est constituée pour qui la stigmatisation de l’autre’”… “La détestation de la religion musulmane” has become “le nouvel opium de l’intellectuel’ ‘antitotalitaire.” (Page 238) At an amazing speed, a powerful media intelligentsia has been built around the stigmatisation of the Other. ” “The loathing of the Muslim religion” has become the “new opium of the anti-totalitarian intellectuals.”
Put simply, to the author the stars of the modern Parisian media salons, those setting the tone, the style and the substance are small in number. They include (putting them in British terms) Éric Zemmour (a ‘declinist’ second cousin to our historians nostalgic for the Empire with specific French gripes against the ‘héritières de mai 68’, ), Alain Finkielkraut (a ‘philosopher’ of the erosion of educational and grammatical standards, and what one might call “Parisianistan’, an even closer co-thinker to Melanie Phillips), Renaud Camus (a professional indignant xenophobe railing at the ‘replacement’ of Europeans by foreigners, and potential Editorialist for the Daily Express), and Michael Houellebecq, who needs no introduction, even, one hopes, to dimwits.
The bulk of La Fin de l’intellectuel français consists of chapters on the historical role of French intellectuals, and considerations of their social functions, from Gramsci, Pierre Bourdieu to Régis Debray. There is mention of lesser-known writings, such as Harman and Rotman’s Les Intellocrats (1981) which highlighted the small Parisian world of publishing, and heralded the birth of the new “media intellectuals” that came to the fore in the late seventies with the nouveaux philosophes, André Glucksmann, Bernard-Henri Lévy and others, long forgotten, defying the totalitarianism they had freshly rejected.
As a pared down version of Michael Scott Christofferson’s Les Intellectuals contre la Gauche (2014 – French, expanded, edition), this history, a grand narrative, charges the French intellectual class with having abandoned Marxism and the left. Amongst many other faults it ignores that the left continued to exist during that decade. Mitterrand’s 1981 victory – initially ruling in coalition with the Parti Communiste français (PCF) – was supported by the mass of the intelligentsia, within which an unbroken critical, if minority, left – never once mentioned in La Fin – has continued its own way, up till the present. This indicates one of the many ways in which the dominance of ‘media intellectuals’, in, unsurprisingly, the media is not the same as the kind of more entrenched intellectual hegemony that Gramsci outlined.
Readers unfamiliar with the history of the term intellectual and the politics of French intellectuals, from the “critical collective intellectual”, Zola and his cohorts, that arose during the Dreyfus Affair, Julien Benda’s defence of disinterested universalism (La Trahison des clercs. 1927), Paul Nizan’s Leninist commitment to the “soldats de la plume” (Les Chiens de Garde. 1932), will find, at least some passages to reflect on.
The Collaboration, the Resistance, post-war ‘engaged’ thinkers, in the mould of Sartre, Beauvoir and Camus, receive particular attention. The less reputable aspects of the Existentialist couple’s war record and minimal participation in real resistance were, for Sand a stumbling block for his own hero worship. Those who have not stumbled across writings such as Carole Seymour-Jones, A Dangerous Liaison (2008) that portrays in more depth than La Fin de l’intellectuel français the worst side of the pair’s war-time treatment of their Jewish lover, Bianca Bienenfeld, may even now be shocked.
Sand is, while not widely known outside of specialised circles, is the author of a fine study of Georges Sorel, L’illusion du politique (1984) Based on his PhD thesis this intellectual biography demolished a number of misconceptions, including the idea that Sorel was a proto-fascist, while making the various writings and stages in Sorel’s thought as clear as is possible. He followed this (echoed in the present volume) with a dispute on fascism, with the Israeli historian Zeev Sternhell. Apart from demonstrating again that 1920s and 1930s French ‘non-conformist’ admiration for Mussolini, and then (to a lesser extent) Hitler, indicated just how far real fascism did not take root in France, Sand demonstrates analytical fineness. He even admits that the far-right (and most notorious intellectual Collaborator) writer Drieu la Rochelle had talent (Page 158). Indeed the text displays – against Sartre’s belief that no anti-Semitic novel had any merit – a serious acquaintance with the romancier’s (in our opinion) interminable and tedious Gilles. (1939) (Page 215)
None of this delicacy is offered in the concluding chapters of La Fin de l’intellectuel français. It is tale of French Islamophobia, of nationalism and bigotry masquerading as Universalist secularism that would have been lifted from the pages of Socialist Worker or the web site of Counterfire. It is with no surprise that we learn that his first salvo against Charlie Hebdo, appeared in the far from philo-semitic ‘wise-guy’ publication, Counterpunch (,A Fetid Wind of Racism Hovers Over Europe. January 2015) a site which has published articles contesting the pardon of…Dreyfus. (1)
Sand loathes Houellebecq, who is perhaps an acquired taste. This may be why he fails to pick up on one of the few funny jokes in Soumission, the creation of the “Indigenous European a direct response to Indigénes de la République” – one group of racists giving ideas to another. Je Suis Charlie, is not, as it is for many of, the emblem of love and freedom. For the nuanced connoisseur of French pre-War ideologies, it was a publication that produced, week in and week out, a “representation méprisante et irrespectueuse de la croyance d’une minorité religieuse” a picture that shows disrespect for a religious minority. (Page 225). No doubt that explains why Muslims, frustrated, unhinged with only a fragile belief to cling to, decided to react with murderous folly (Page 227). Doubtless it also accounts for why they killed at the Hyper-Cacher….
That the middle class demonstrated on the 11th of January 2015 in solidarity with Charlie we do not doubt. But oddly, Sand does not deeply cite his authority on this point, Emmanuel Todd, for whom they also showed the spirit of Vichy, Catholic Zombies (walking unconsciously in the steps of their religious past), soaked in the ‘culture of narcissism’, objectively xenophobe, like the Parti Socialiste, and …pro-Europeans – the (Sociologie d’une crise religieuse. Qui est Charlie? 2015). So, with every one of his bugbears wrapped together, what next? Todd, we are not astonished to learn, despises this bloc, the MAZ, prefers those who rejected the Maastricht treaty, and….is himself a nationalist, or, as they call it today, a “sovereigntist” who wishes to reassert French Sovereignty over the economy, against the European Union….
In his pursuit of allies in the fight against French laïcité Sand might consider a much deeper problem than hostile reactions to Islam or those who make summary judgements about ‘Islamo-gauchisme’. It lies in this sovereigntism: a nationalists turn with far deeper roots than religious or ethnic hostility: a true xenophobia, embraced not just by the Front National, but by the centre-right, and that section of the left which shares Todd’s loathing of the European Union, if not other European states (not to mention the US). There is a name for this, which we have already used, xenophobia, and the point where nationalism slides into racism.
One can accept that that anti-Muslim feeling is prejudice, that there is a strong dose of racist defence of “la terre et les morts” against all classes of immigrants but particularly Muslims, and Catholic Mayors suddenly discovering that are secular republicans. That one can pretend that specifically French forms of secularism are universal at one’s peril.
One can accept all of this, even some gestures towards the sub-existentialist phrases about fear of the Other …but, are there not some problems about violent forms of Islamism, some difficulties, as indicated in Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran, to halt just there. That amongst contemporary forms of Islamism, the status of the Kufur, the rules governing women, most visibly their ‘modesty’ and punishing the ‘immodest’, bedrock human rights issues, remain…issues.
Sand passes in silence over the ideas of the strongly left-wing and pro-Communist Charlie editor, Charb. Perhaps he should read his posthumous Lettre aux escrocs de l’islamophobie qui font le jeu des racists (2015). If that proves too much for him he has no excuse whatsoever for ignoring the mass of serious literature in French on Islam, and Islamism, from Gilles Kepel, Olivier Roy, François Burgat, Gilbert Achcar in French. The vast majority of these writings, are as nuanced, as profoundly researched as one could wish, with all due consideration for the immense difficulties of marginalised Maghrebian and African populations. I would recommend he begin with a genuine intellectual with knowledge of both the evolution of former Maoists towards ‘anti-totalitarianism’ and Islamism, Jean Birnbaum, and his Un Silence Religieux. La Gauche Face au Djihadisme. 2016. He is certainly not a sign of the ‘end’ of the species.
The secularist Ligue des droits de l’homme has been at the forefront of the fight against the ‘Burkini ban’ (l’Humanité) So much for Sand’s recent claim that “La laïcité, comme autrefois le patriotisme, s’avère, de nos jours, l’ultime refuge de l’infâme ” (Nouvel Obs. 24.8.16.)
(1) THE DREYFUS CASE, REVISITED: Israel Shamir sifts through the Dreyfus case: was he really a victim of anti-semitism?