Friday, April 3, 2015

A Note On Fascists and Antisemitism

This week, I was lucky enough to attend a two-day conference titled "Fascisms Across Borders" jointly hosted by Columbia University and the New School for Social Research (where I currently study). One of the presentations given by Michele Battaini focused on the role of antisemitism in the forms of fascism we've seen since the second world war. His major claim that what makes fascist antisemitism distinct from anti-Judaism of, for example, the Catholic Church prior to the Enlightenment or of the antisemitism that came out of the eugenics movement is the integration of antisemitism into an opposition to capitalism - what Battaini called "anticapitalist antisemitism."

He draws a sharp distinction between this anticapitalist antisemitism with xenophobia. On the one hand, I'm inclined to agree that fascist antisemitism, where it persists, is integral to their critique of capitalism, but I'm not entirely convinced of the distinction between antisemitism (as it manifests within fascist milieus) and xenophobia. To me, Battaini takes too narrow a view of antisemitism. For him, antisemitism is a hatred of Jews based on stereotypes of Jews as controlling finance and through this controlling governments and world economies. This is only half of the story.

As Steve Cohen notes in his pamphlet That's Funny, You Don't Look Antisemitic modern antisemitic mythology (which he points to as having infiltrated the radical left) is based on a dualistic conception of Jews - wealthy lords of finance on the one hand and poor spoilers of the labor market on the other. Throughout the late 19th and early 20th century, Jews were seen as on the one hand manipulating the world economy through financial dealings while on the other hand sapping any sort of proletarian uprising either by operating as scabs or by spreading communist/anarchist trades unionism.

To me, what Battaini identifies is half of a necessary component of fascist doctrine to which Jews are only incidental. I identify fascisms as a form of empty anti-imperialism in which the nation(-state) is an end unto itself rather than a means for collective liberation of an oppressed populace. In order for this doctrine to hold, fascism requires a mythology for which the nation is under merciless attack as a nation, rather than as for instance an exploitable labor pool. Thus, fascisms craft a mythology in which a group/ideology is attempting to take over the nation(-state) from without, while undermining it from within.

Thus, in Hitler's world, the rich Jew of the West - the international Jew, the Jewish banker, the Elders of Zion, etc. - is the imperialist force seeking to dominate the Germanic nation, while the poor Jew of the east - the communist Jew, the scab Jew, etc. - is the infiltrating force seeking to undermine and weaken the German nation. Battaini's research focuses primarily on Mussolini's fascism, so his question was largely focused on the shift from the largely cosmopolitan fascism of the 1920's to the implementation of racial laws throughout the mid to late 1930's. What he failed to mention is that, although Mussolini counted Italian Jews as part of the Italian nation, Mussolini often talked of "International Jewry" before implementing the racial laws. In fact, he would assure the Italian Jews that when he was talking about International Jewry, he was not talking about Italian Jews, but rather of the financial forces of the "plutocratic democracies" of the West.

Thus, for Mussolini, as well as other fascists who embrace antisemitism of any form, Jews are not people so much as an ideology. In the more viciously antisemitic versions of fascism (the doctrines of Hitler or Codreanu, for instance), Jews as individuals are identified with Jews as an ideology. If, however, we look at Anders Breivik's manifesto 2083, Jews are entirely absent as national enemies. However, functional antisemitism (that is, the purposes antisemitism serves within the broader fascist doctrine) remains. However, in Breivik's telling, the imperialist force is Islam and the infiltrating force is feminism or more broadly "Cultural Marxism," a favorite bogeyman of post-War fascisms.

As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't make much sense to talk about fascist antisemitism without considering the function it serves within the broader doctrines of fascism. What a way to start Pesach.