Prêcheurs de Haine (Preachers of Hatred), by Pierre-André Taguieff, is a large scale, French-language study of “left wing” “judeophobia”.
Taguieff is not himself a leftist, but his observations and analysis of the left are not necessarily invalidated by that.
In the last issue of Solidarity Stan Crooke presented an exposition of Taguieff’s arguments*. In this issue he critically examines Taguieff’s material and his assessments. In future issues of Solidarity will publish a discussion on this book and on “left-wing” judeophobia in general. We invite contributions to that discussion.
Taguieff is right to point to the changing form — but, by definition, constant target — of judeophobia over the centuries. And he is right to argue that the current dominant form of judeophobia is anti-Zionism.
But there is a problem in Taguieff’s distinction between legitimate anti-Zionism (legitimate criticism of Israeli policies, or even of the Zionist project as a whole) and the absolute and unconditional anti-Zionism which advocates the destruction of Israel. Or, more exactly, there is a problem in where Taguieff draws a line between the two.
Taguieff stresses the need for “the historian of the present, the political scientist, or the sociologist to demonstrate prudence in their decoding of positions adopted (in relation to Israel).” There is a “vast zone of ambiguity between the two poles (of anti-Zionism) which sometimes renders interpretation of the positions adopted extremely difficult.”
Such prudence is not apparent in Taguieff’s own work. Thus, calls by some on the left (e.g. Michel Warschawski) for a single bi-national state for Israelis and Palestinians — based on the idea that such a framework would allow state rights to both populations, and would also allow for national reconciliation — are denounced with the same virulence as are jihadi calls to destroy “the Zionist entity”.
And although Taguieff writes that “the action of Sharon or his government can be judged a disaster without thereby being anti-Jewish,” one cannot help feeling that Taguieff’s understanding of what he calls “the least Israeli reaction of legitimate defence” is a particularly generous one.
Thus, for example, the wall currently under construction between Israel and the West Bank (and within the territories of the West Bank as well) is described by Taguieff as “a measure of self-protection, of which the effectiveness is certainly debatable, but certainly not the legitimacy (even if the path of its construction poses a problem in that it does not correspond to the Green Line).”
But the softness of Taguieff’s attitude towards the Israeli government does not invalidate his analysis of judeophobia and absolute anti-Zionism. The idea that no-one can denounce judeophobia unless they first make a full “politically correct” denunciation of Israel’s policies is itself a form of judeophobia.
Taguieff is also correct to point to a certain judeophobic tradition located in the socialist movement over the last two centuries, and now to be found in the contemporary far left. But that tradition is insufficiently described and excessively generalised by Tagueiff.
Taguieff gives some examples of judeophobia emerging on the left from about 1830 onwards. In fact, there are far more examples which he could cite. The trouble is, he omits the counter-examples.
There were distasteful debates at the congresses of the Second International about the “Jewish question” in which some delegates argued that the “question” could be resolved through the disappearance of the Jews. There was the accommodation after the 1914-8 war of the German Social Democrats and Communists to anti-semitism. This culminated in the Communist Party slogan of “Crush the Jewish capitalists! Hang them from the lampposts! Destroy them!”
More recently, in the late 1960s the emergence of an inchoate new left, part of which drifted off into “urban guerrilla warfare” witnessed an explosion of “anti-imperialist” judeophobia, distinguishable from more recent forms of judeophobia on the left by its unbridled virulence and by its eventual merger with the “armed struggle strategy”.
In Germany at least, that militant judeophobia was experienced by its partisans as a necessary demonstration that the emerging left was free of any feelings of guilt about the Nazi Holocaust: the fact that German fascism had murdered Jews was no reason for the new left to refrain from fighting “the Zionists” to the death. Not to be an absolute anti-Zionist was to capitulate to a guilt-stricken sentimentality about the Holocaust.
The trouble is that, on the basis of the few examples which he does cite, Taguieff makes sweeping generalisations, most clearly reflected in his rhetorical question as to whether judeophobia was a precondition of socialist engagement in the nineteenth century.
It was not. Taguieff himself cites Saint-Simon as an example of a socialist pioneer who had no truck with judeophobia. At the time of the Dreyfus affair, as Taguieff himself points out, the French left lined up against the anti-semites (although their leader, Jaures, had previously seen anti-semitism as a progressive force). And the debates in the Second International about the “Jewish question” saw vigorous opposition to judeophobia, too.
One cannot seriously present the asides in Marx’s essay on the Jewish question, published in 1844, as emblematic of the world outlook which he subsequently developed. Or overlook the fact that the early socialist movement at the time of its origins had a range of peculiar ideas (e.g. it was frequently pro-abstinence as a matter of principle), even if, admittedly, none of them were as threatening as the notion of the “Jewish plutocracy”.
AND if, as Taguieff implicitly suggests, the revolutionary left is a natural home of judeophobia, where is the judeophobia in Lenin’s writings? None of the Bolsheviks regarded the Black Hundreds as a misdirected expression of proletarian revolt. As one learns from Taguieff, it was Tsarism, not Bolshevism, which published 14 million copies of 3,000 anti-semitic works between 1905 and 1916. And in the revolutionary-socialist tradition Lenin counts for rather more than Leroux, Dairnvaell, Blanqui, Tridon and Chirac.
In relation to the contemporary far left, Taguieff is guilty of equally sweeping generalisations. In Taguieff’s book “the far left” is the label for what appears to be a single, monolithic bloc. Taguieff’s “far left”, in its totality, is guilty of judeophobia and well on its way to a subservient alliance with Islamism.
There is no small sleight of hand here. The far left, especially in Europe, is a myriad of competing forces. Not a few of them are diametrically opposed to the judeophobia and pro-Islamism which Taguieff attributes to “the far left” in general. But there is scarcely a word of this far left in Taguieff’s book.
And insofar as it does receive even a passing mention, then only in footnotes. Tucked away in a footnote at page 506 is a reference to an article in the Dutch publication De Fabel van de illegaal, translated and circulated in France by Ni Patrie ni Frontieres. Seventy pages later on another footnote refers to the works of the Italian Enzo Traverso (“himself a Trotskyist, but honest and competent”). But Traverso belongs to the French LCR (one of Taguieff’s main targets)!
Taguieff is right in his condemnation of Islamist judeophobia and in his condemnation of Islamism as a reactionary political movement.
But there is a curious omission in the book’s treatment of Islamist judeophobia, presumably flowing out of the fact that the book is a collection of essays rather than something written as a single chain of argument.
Only in the course of a single footnote — one referring to the role of Johann von Leers – does Taguieff make any reference to the fertilisation of Arab/Islamist judeophobia by German fascism in the 1930s and early 1940s. But, and this certainly strengthens Taguieff’s overall argument on this point, modern Arab/Islamist judeophobia originated specifically from the transfer of a European, fascist form of judeophobia to the Arab world. A description of that crucial “export” is absent from Taguieff’s book.
Taguieff shows no restraint in his denunciation of Islamism. It is the “third totalitarianism” (after fascism and communism). It is “a threat to democratic liberties everywhere.” The democratic countries “must exercise their non-negotiable right to defend themselves against this threat, especially by preventive measures.” There is a simple but harsh truth: “We are at war… The Third World War has begun.”
And, measured even against his own not immodest standards, Taguieff surpasses himself in his polemical denunciation of the perceived allies of this Islamism:
“This war also has, to the right just as to the left, its ‘collaborators’, it auxiliaries, its reinforcements — the pseudo-anti-racists who have become professional judeophobes, the intellectuals of Jewish origin who have surreptitiously gone over to the anti-Jewish camp, the Third-Worldist Christians prone to reminisce about anti-Judaism, the revolutionaries without a proletariat or a revolution in sight but who find in the ‘Palestinian cause’ a substitute for their ideological passion, the imaginary anti-fascists in search of undiscoverable ‘fascists’.”
“Auxiliaries worthy of pity, or collaborators of the third totalitarianism worthy of hate, naïve fellow-travellers of ‘green fascism’: the conquering Islamism, proclaimed enemy of constitutional and pluralist democracies. Writers who serve Islamist-Palestinian terror. Useful idiots and useless collaborators gifted with an immaculately pure conscience, the fine souls of predictable political causes, of which the number never ceases to increase.”
But what is the force that Taguieff counterposes to Islamism in this apocalyptic struggle? Not that of the opponents of Islamism in those countries where it holds sway. And not that of the organised left or the broader labour movements. For Taguieff, the left is part of the problem, not the solution. And his aversion to class-analysis precludes any role for workers.
TAGUIEFF is left with the armed force of the Western states. Taguieff is not in the least shamefaced about this. However partially and however problematically, “the democratic idea … has been put into practice in the West. … The superiority of the democratic/pluralist system is certainly reflected in the fact that it guarantees individual liberties, but also in the fact that it is the only perfectible political system, capable of self-correction without recourse to violence.”
Taguieff thus ends up as a supporter of the invasion of Iraq, presumably one of the “preventive measures” which the West has the right to take in its war against Islamism. The Iraq war was (is) “a war undertaken in the name of democratic values.”
The war had (has) a political and geo-strategic perspective: “respond to terrorism by eliminating a despotic regime which constituted one of the main military powers in the region, isolate Saudi Arabia as the main source of Islamist terrorism and its ideology, re-model the Middle East in order to make possible an Israeli-Arab peace, and thereby guarantee a certain stability in the region.”
To expose and denounce the judeophobic, pro-Islamist and pro-Saddam idiocies of sections of the anti-war movement is one thing. To spin fantasies about the driving forces behind the war, and the likely outcomes of the war, is another.
But it is in his attacks on the French far left that Taguieff is at his weakest. (Had he directed his attacks at the British far left, specifically the SWP, then it would have been a different story – see below.)
The French far left is largely absent from Taguieff’s book — in the sense that the endless denunciations of French communists, neo-communists, Trotskyists, new leftists and neo-leftists, etc., etc. are not backed up by hard evidence and the “naming of names”.
The Lambertists, the third largest Trotskyist organisation in France, are simply absent from the book. (Other than two passing and irrelevant references to a former Lambertist and a current Lambertist in footnotes.)
Lutte Ourvriere (LO), the largest French Trotskyist organisation, is likewise virtually absent from the book. There is the odd reference to its involvement in this or that demonstration. Laguiller, its best-known leading figure, is mentioned twice. (Once in passing, and once as an example of the “proletarian and sectarian” face of Trotskyism.) Olivia Zemor is denounced as an LO member “known for her pathological hatred of Israel”, albeit in the absence of any explanation. There are just eight entries for LO in the index of this 950-page book.
The LCR fares slightly better, with 36 entries in the book’s index. But these are largely passing references to its members or, not infrequently, former members or sympathisers.
If the organisations of the French far left are largely absent from the book, then their publications are entirely absent. Nowhere in the book does Taguieff actually quote from the press, or websites, of the organisations of the French far left. It is noticeable that when Taguieff does quote a member of the French far left, then the source for the quote almost invariably turns out to be the mainstream press and media.
TO denounce the French far left for judeophobia and for accommodation to Islamism but to fail to substantiate those denunciations with quotes or hard examples (other than a few examples of its members attending demonstrations which also attracted Islamists) is a serious omission.
The only, partial, exception to the above criticisms is that Taguieff occasionally focuses his attacks on the SWP’s French satellite Socialisme Par En Bas (Socialism from Below). But SPEB is far from being as politically significant in France as the SWP is in this country. (It has now joined the LCR as a minority.)
Taguieff often gives the impression of knowing little or nothing about the positions adopted by the main organisations of the French far left. He denounces them, for example, for judeophobia, of which a defining theme is the “smash Israel” variety of “anti-Zionism”. But neither LO nor the LCR advocates the destruction of Israel.
And he denounces them for allying with Islamists against the banning of the wearing of the veil in French schools. But both the LCR and LO took a very different position from the Islamists: they favoured a campaign against the veil. They questioned the state ban because of their understanding of the state and of Chirac's government in particular, not because they had a pro-veil position. Both LO and LCR officially refused to join the Islamist demonstrations, and, if LO did not explicitly support the state ban, it certainly did not denounce it.
There is room for argument about how sections of the French far left have, for example, intervened in Palestinian solidarity campaigning, or campaigning against the war in Iraq, or the broader anti-globalisation movement. But discussion and criticism about how such issues have been approached are quite a different matter from Taguieff’s across-the-board criticisms of the French far left as a whole and at the level of basic political principles.
Insofar as Taguieff does give specific examples in his book — and, significantly, they all relate to the LCR, not to LO — they generally do give rise to legitimate questioning.
Why, for example, did the LCR support the invitation given to Ramadan to speak at the 2003 European Social Forum (though its magazine carried scathing criticism of Ramadan)? Why did the LCR call, with others, for an anti-war demonstration which linked Iraq to Palestine, but did not raise the slogan of opposition to Saddam? Why does the LCR youth circulate material reminiscent of Stalinist “anti-Zionism”? And what is the LCR doing to challenge the virulent judeophobia in sections of Palestine-solidarity campaigning in France (see below)?
To say that Taguieff has singularly failed to “pin the charges” on the French left is not to say that his basic arguments about the degeneration of the far left are entirely wrong. At the level of general analysis his arguments are right (with the proviso that they apply only to certain sections of the far left, not the far left in its entirety). His mistake was to pick the wrong country.
His arguments fit the British SWP like a glove. Absolute anti-Zionism? The SWP stands for the destruction of the “hijack state” of Israel. Soft on Islamist terrorism? For the SWP, Islamist terror is the “violence of the oppressed”, from the Twin Towers of New York to the Shia mosques of Baghdad. Heading for an alliance with Islamic fundamentalism? With the grossly misnamed Stop the War Coalition and the Respect Unity Coalition the SWP has got there already. Useful idiots or useless collaborators? The jury is still out on that one.
Although the degeneration of the SWP has reached an advanced stage, the SWP is not unique in its self-imposed political re-orientation. It is a reflection of a broader current on the left internationally, one which is treading the same political path as the SWP, albeit lagging behind the “vanguard party”. It would therefore be unfair to suggest that Taguieff’s criticisms apply only to the SWP and its co-thinkers.
TAGUIEFF did not write Preachers of Hatred to pull the far left back into line. On the contrary, Taguieff believes that the far left and the far right must be fought “without weakness”. Taguieff is not, and does not pretend to be, a friend of the far left (which, he argues in one of the book’s undercurrents, has now become indistinguishable from the far right on international issues in particular).
And yet, despite the overarching political standpoint from which Taguieff wrote Preachers of Hatred, the book should serve as a wake-up call to the left. Thanks to the SWP, an Islamist-leftist alliance has become scandalous reality in the UK. In this country that alliance needs to be defeated. In other countries the left needs to make sure that such an alliance never gets off the ground.
Taguieff states that he was driven to write Preachers of Hatred by anger at the upsurge of judeophobic attacks in France, specific examples of a broader upsurge of judeophobia. And that judeophobia, Taguieff argues in his book, is particularly prevalent in French Palestine-solidarity campaigns.
Whether Taguieff was justified in his anger and in his targeting of Palestine solidarity-campaigning can be measured against the following extracts of a review of Preachers of Hatred on the website of the Nord Pas-de-Calais branch of the AFPS (French Palestine Solidarity Campaign):
“Even if Taguieff has swapped the term ‘anti-semitism’ for ‘judeophobia’, … there is little chance that his arguments will be taken seriously by the public. People are not that stupid!”
“If the exploitation of ‘anti-semitism’ functioned fairly well until now, today it no longer always a box-office draw. All the more so given that in 2004 a series of revelations allowed the police to establish that acts attributed too hastily to ‘rampant anti-semitism’ were, in reality, acts fabricated by the very people who cried out about the ‘persecution of the Jews’, fomented by pyromaniac firefighters closely linked to Jewish organisations.”
“Today all the world should know that in recent years, while organisations such as the CRIF (a Jewish community organisation) hounded the French political class about ‘anti-semitism’, Israel was perpetrating in Palestine the worst war crimes in its history. All these campaigns which waved the spectre of ‘anti-semitism’ were ideological. They served political objectives. And they became ever louder when Israel carried out bloody operations against Palestinians. It was a matter of providing a diversion.”
“How much longer will France put up with, and not react to, these provocateurs and manipulators in the pay of Israel — who, at the end of the day, feel themselves more Israeli than French — who continue to foment trouble in order to divide its citizens?”
“Whatever Israel does, it can always count on allies who support it and diffuse its propaganda. … Taguieff is not the most active of these unconditional supporters of Israel who misinform us on a daily basis. He is only the smallest link in a chain of ‘masters of discourse’ who occupy the entire field of the media, who weigh down on French politics, and who participate in this process of dehumanising the Arab and the Muslim, which comforts the interests of Israel.”
“To give one’s support to a state which denies Palestinians the right to exist is not a defensible position. But what does that matter! For the Taguieffs of this world it is a question of giving a helping hand to Israel at a time when … its image as a ‘civilised and democratic country’ is crumbling. You cannot fool the world indefinitely. To give to anti-semitism — or judeophobia — an importance which it does not have is to serve the cause of Israel; it does not serve the cause of France.”
Taguieff’s book is full of bile and venom? That’s hardly surprising.