Norman Geras supports war in Iraq, or, a new Manchester school emerges

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Wed Jul 30 11:52:27 MDT 2003

Now that I've had a chance to take a closer look at Geras's website, it
is obvious that he has broken with the left. There is not a single link
on his home page associated with a leftist website. In addition to those
identified by Johannes, you have links to ultrarightist Andrew
Sullivan's website and something called "Biased BBC"--you can guess what
their beef with the BBC is.

For me the real question is why in the world Workers Liberty would want
to have somebody like this as a speaker.

I dealt with Geras in the course of a post on the Goldhagen thesis a
while back. I said at the time that he was evolving into a kind of
Goldhagen himself. Basically, when you begin to lose track of the
underlying class realities in the "war against fascism", it is quite
easy to end up waving the stars and stripes. That happened to countless
radicals during WWII and seems to be happening once again. The "war
against fascism" turned into the "war against international communism"
which then turned into the "war against Islamic terrorism". It is time
we turned the guns around.


Nazism as undigested barbarism seems much closer to the mark than the
base-superstructure model. Trotsky goes even further than this. In 1938,
a midway point between date of the preceding article, and the death
camps, Trotsky predicts the impending genocide. In December of that
year, in an appeal to American Jews, he writes: "It is possible to
imagine without difficulty what awaits the Jews at the mere outbreak of
the future world war. But even without war the next development of world
reaction signifies with certainty the physical extermination of the Jews."

These remarks are cited in the first paragraph of Norman Geras's
"Marxists before the Holocaust", an article which appears in the special
July/August 1997 issue of New Left Review on the holocaust. This issue
features a lengthy critique by Norman Finkelstein on Goldhagen. While
Finkelstein's rather devastating attack on the scholarship and
implicitly pro-Zionist ideas of Goldhagen have achieved a high profile,
Geras's article is worthy of discussion as well, since it occupies a
space much closer to Goldhagen's than to Marxism.

Geras argues that Marxism can not explain the holocaust. His attack is
not directed at Leon's economic determinism. Rather it is directed at
Trotsky and Ernest Mandel who try to explain the holocaust as an
expression of capitalism in its most degenerate and irrational phase.
Geras says that the murder of the Jews is radically different than the
bombing of Hiroshima, the war in Indochina and other acts of imperialist
barbarism cited by Mandel in an effort to put the genocide in some kind
of context. The difference between the death camps and the slaughter of
the Vietnamese people is one of quantity, not quality. This outrages
Geras, who says that Mandel and the German "revisionist" historian Ernst
Nolte should be paired.

"What follows should only be said bluntly. Within this apologia there is
a standpoint bearing a formal resemblance to something I have criticized
in Mandel. I mean the energetic contextualization of Nazi crimes by
Nolte, even while briefly conceding their singular and unprecedented
character: his insistence that they belong to the same history of modern
times as the American war in Vietnam, the Vietnamese invasion of
Cambodia, the exodus from Vietnam of the boat people--a 'holocaust on
the water'--the Cambodian genocide, the repression following on the
Iranian revolution, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and, above all,
the liquidation of the kulaks, and the Gulag. Against that backdrop,
Nolte urged that the Third Reich 'should be removed from the isolation
in which it still finds itself.' This is what came, in the debate in
question, to be called 'relativization' of the Holocaust; and it is what
Mandel himself calls it in taking issue with Nolte's views. Mandel
continues even now to assert that the Holocaust was an extreme product
of tendencies which are historically more general. But he perceives a
need, evidently, to balance the assertion with a greater emphasis on the
singularity of the Jews."

Geras says that he will try at some point to offer his own analysis of
why the Jews were exterminated. Since I am not familiar with his work, I
hesitate to predict what shape it will take. I suspect that there will
be liberal appropriation of the type of idealist obfuscation contained
in Goldhagen. That would be unfortunate. What is needed to understand
Nazism is not essentialist readings of German history, but a more acute
historical materialist understanding of these tragic events.



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