[Marxism] Norman Geras toast of the neocons

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Jul 1 16:13:30 MDT 2006

Leninology wrote:
>There's a curiously significant argument about the nature of the Nazi 
>holocaust involved

Long before Geras got involved with the prowar "left", I wrote a critique 
of a NLR article he had written about this question:

In 1933, ten years before the death camps, Leon Trotsky wrote "What is 
National Socialism." This article does an excellent job of diagnosing the 
madness of the Nazi movement which had just taken power:

"Fascism has opened up the depths of society for politics. Today, not only 
in peasant homes but also in city skyscrapers, there lives alongside of the 
twentieth century the tenth of the thirteenth. A hundred million people use 
electricity and still believe in the magic power of signs and exorcisms. 
The Pope of Rome broadcasts over the radio about the miraculous 
transformation of water into wine. Movie stars go to mediums. Aviators who 
pilot miraculous mechanisms created by man's genius wear amulets on their 
sweaters. What inexhaustible reserves they possess of darkness, ignorance, 
and savagery! Despair has raised them to their feet, fascism has given them 
a banner. Everything that should have been eliminated from the national 
organism in the form of cultural excrement in the course of the normal 
development of society has now come gushing out from the throat; capitalist 
society is puking up the undigested barbarism. Such is the psychology of 
National Socialism."

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.

full: http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/fascism_and_war/goldhagen.htm 

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