Drawing the line

In his comments (Letters, October 11) on my article in the Weekly Worker (‘Not part of the left’, October 4), Chris Cutrone of the Platypus group asserts that, “for good or ill”, the ‘anti-Germans’ must be considered “part of the global left”. A strange declaration, seeing as neither the German left nor the hard-core anti-Germans themselves share this view.

As I reported in my article, they operate in accordance with their slogan, “Deny the left and other Nazis the right to exist”. Like other ex-communists before them – whether Shachtmanites-turned-neocons or Eurocommunists-turned-Blairites – their journey took them to a place that can no longer be meaningfully described as ‘left’ by anyone who has eyes to see. As those who remember Jack Straw recommending Lenin’s pamphlet, Leftwing communism, in a 2004 issue of The Independent will readily concede, residue Marxist vocabulary is not unusual among the lapsed and the terminally diseased.

If Cutrone is really prepared to consider any tendency that operates with left imagery or terminology as “part of the global left”, then I look forward to reading translations of Russian National Bolshevik Party pamphlets in the pages of The Platypus Review – without comment or additional information, of course, so as to facilitate the unprejudiced “conversation” and reinvigoration of the “dead left”. After all, that formation’s fantasies of a Eurasian empire under the Russian jackboot are, to use Cutrone’s words, “no worse, ideologically, and certainly not practically,” than Stephan Grigat’s far more reality-based agitation for imperialist war against Iran, with all the social tragedy, political devastation and heaps of corpses it entails.

But Cutrone’s blog, The Last Marxist, offers a somewhat less impartial outlook: “Now, we are clearly more sympathetic to the anti-fascist rather than the anti-imperialist ‘left’,” he observes. “This can be found in our orientations towards the anti-Deutsch and others as our preferred objects of critique – more interesting, in certain respects, as objects of critical engagement, to be redeemed in some way.”

Indeed, Cutrone’s sympathies for what he calls the “anti-fascist left” are quite clear. What is more, his coding of social-imperialism as “anti-fascist” is a stratagem borrowed from Nick Cohen, whose grouplet of signatories constitutes the bulk of what Platypus members refer to as the “global anti-fascist left” outside Germany. Those people’s “anti-fascism” amounts to little more than support for the ‘war on terror’ and an explicit allegiance to ‘democratic’ bourgeois rule, with all its anti-democratic ‘checks and balances’ (see The Euston manifesto). It has nothing to do with fascism – unless we extend the definition to any type of ‘authoritarianism’, including being sent to bed without supper. Nor is it in any way related to the countless international anti-fascist groups, which, despite elevating the threat posed by the far right over all other political concerns, are generally not imperialist-friendly. They would rightly object to being lumped in with the likes of Cohen and Grigat.

I self-criticise for failing to mention the Initiative Sozialistisches Forum sect – whose text, ‘Communism and Israel’, Platypus has also published – in my brief rundown of ‘anti-German’ history. According to Henning Böke, who was among the early ‘anti-Germans’, when those were still identifiably part of the left, one must “distinguish the new anti-German current which emerged after 1994 from the anti-German tendency of the early 1990s”.

And furthermore “the new anti-Germans [from the ISF] who came after us were radical academics who never had been involved in any social movement … They constructed the core of new anti-German ideology by rejecting any kind of workers’ movement and, even more, any idea of a collective emancipation.”

Whether the partial change of personnel really represented a clean break between the old Kommunistischer Bund cadres and the new ISF guard is arguable. Ideologically at least, the latter seems very much a consistent aggravation of the former, with the already discarded proletariat increasingly assuming the role of a transhistorically anti-Semitic bogeyman. The anti-Germans’ ‘Goodbye to the working class’ takes the shape of ‘Fuck the left’ – a position that is aggressively manifest in their activism, which I have described at length and which Cutrone declined to comment on.

It is worth reading the full text (‘Nuanced history of the anti-Germans’) to get an idea of the thematic affinities between the ISF current and Platypus. Beside their reconsideration of liberalism as a precondition for progress and their Postonian allergy to any anti-capitalist activism, the anti-Germans consider bourgeois democracy to be the hallmark of ‘civilisation’ that distinguishes the west from intrinsically ‘fascist’ peoples such as the Arabs. One may well wonder: if these folks are part of the global left, then where do we draw the line – somewhere to the right of Anders Breivik? As evidenced by Platypus’s decision to publish texts from the ISF milieu, it is this “hard-core” current – not the early 90s tendency – that Cutrone wishes to “redeem somehow”.

Cutrone does not discriminate between ‘anti-imperialist’ apologia for reactionary Middle East regimes, on the one hand, and the principled anti-imperialism proposed by campaigns such as Hands Off the People of Iran, on the other. It is obvious that the opposition to imperialism bothers him more than the sugar-coating of tinpot dictators, which is why he wraps ‘imperialism’ in sniffy inverted commas. Progressive conclusions will not be drawn in “conversation” with the neocon warmongers that Platypus is bringing to the table.

Its policy of publishing ‘anti-German’ writings while blanking out the context appears like an attempt to make the best of a bad job – a way to create international space for the ‘anti-Germans’ where there previously wasn’t any. Superficially, the presentation of duplicitous Grigat con-jobs alongside a variety of left texts and well-meaning criticisms appears as a quasi-postmodern “dead left” curiosity exhibition, implying that everything is as valid as everything else. But I suspect there is a specific political project behind the disinterested appearance: namely that of advancing positions which deny the historical role of the working class.

In light of this, I am sceptical whether a point-by-point reply in The Platypus Review that “directly addresses concerns [arising from the Grigat article] with respect to Iran”, as requested by Cutrone, would be a very good idea. We have long argued that, in principle, it is not reprehensible to debate anyone, including fascists – but it is preferable if that does not happen on the opponent’s terms. Sometimes, the internet dictum, ‘Don’t feed the troll’, is the correct tactic.

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