The Nature of Anti-Semitism {was Revolutionary Marxist Holocaust Denial?}

LeoCasey at LeoCasey at
Mon Jul 3 12:26:09 MDT 1995

There is a substantial body of literature, a great deal of it in careful
historical analysis, on the origins of modern racism and anti-semitism, and
if we are going to converse on the topic, I think that some references to it
would be useful. (Cornel West's "A Socialist Theory of Racism" provides a
fairly good introductory summary of some of this literature.)

One of the points which becomes clear when one reads the literature is that
there is a radical break in the nature of xenophobia and anti-Semitism in the
modern era. Prior to the period best marked by the Spanish Inquisition,
Judaism was seen primarily as a mistaken, heretical religious creed;
consequently, a Jewish person could escape persecution by conversion to
Christianity. Similarly, in the early stages of slavery in the America, a
period when indentured servitude still existed and there was yet to be a
clear distinction between slave and freeman, enslavement was justified on the
basis of 'heathenism.' The break takes the form of imputing an essential
(biological) charcter to the objects of anti-Semitic and racist discourses --
one is now defined by the group identity of one's mother, and thus, it is no
longer possible to 'escape' anti-Semitic persecution and enslavement through
religious conversion. It is a mistake, therefore, to see a line of clear
continuity between pre-modern anti-Semitism and xenophobia, and modern
anti-Semitism and racism.

It is significant that this break takes place with the rise of modern
nation-state, for it reflects the homogenizing and normalizing tendency of
the modern state to intern (and, in its extreme form, eliminate) social and
cultural difference. That which can not be homogenized -- be it the observant
Jew or the wandering gypsy, the homosexual or the Native American, the
African-American or the Turkish Armenian (and so on)  -- is separated out,
and at particular times and places, eliminated. This is a complex story, one
with elements rooted in the very spatial and temporal organization of
modernity. A few illustrations might suffice to point out the general
significance of this development. Remember that the modern nation-state is
the first to demarcate out national boundaries, and to go about homogenizing
the nation within those boundaries -- in everything from establishing
standardized national languages and single national currencies to enforcing
itself as the association with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force.
There is a long string of social mechanisms and institutions through which
social and cultural difference is interned from the ghetto to the reservation
to the concentration camp.

One of the results of this tendency is the homologous relationship between
different forms of oppression -- at the same time that modern anti-Semitism
and racism is developing, there is a parallel, radical break in the nature of
anti-homosexual oppression. In the Middle Ages, gay sex acts are one of many
'sins' of the flesh that every person may succumb to; in the modern era, gay
sex acts define the nature of the person wh engages in them as 'homosexual'.

There is a logic, a rationality, therefore, to the patterns of the Holocaust,
but it is _not_ a patern which one can find by looking for some form of
essential oppression. Rather, every group which find its way into the
concentration camps and the ovens were forms of social and cultural
difference that a modern state in its most virulent authoritarian form wanted
to eliminate. What the Jehovah Witness and the gay man, the Communist and
Hasidic Jew, the gypsy and the disabled person all had in common that led
them to the same end was this irreducible, unerasable, unhomogenizable
quality of social and cultural difference.

Once one sees the logic at work, it becomes clear that the great divide
between the Holocaust and the mass murder of Stalinist states is illusory --
in different national contexts, they simply sought out different expressions
of social and cultural difference. Thus, the fact that the Khymer Rouge would
target the Vietnamese and Chinese ethnic minorities and the literate does not
make them a species separate from the Nazis.

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