I recently rediscovered my 2001 “a constructive critique…” text while snooping around in my archives for other presentable old texts that I could put onto my new web site. After all, that’s one of the reasons I set it up, to have a platform to publish my stuff.
I still agree with a lot of what I wrote. If I were to revise the text today I would change nothing of my critique of Left anti-americanism, of the necessity of making European imperial ambitions, and the machinations of subaltern power centers an issue, and about how a critique of capitalism needs to be more than just about ownership of the means of production, although maybe I would talk a little differently about capitalism today – at the time I had just finished reading Moishe Postone’s “Time, Labor and Social Domination” and was very much in that conceptual universe – nothing wrong with that per se, I still think Postone’s work is an example for what critical Marxism – real Marxism – can still do today… Even though I also still think critical Marxism needs to be crossed with feminist and antiracist critiques to be really useful…
I notice how I feel a little unsure regarding the passages specifically about Islamic fundamentalism. This has to do with the fact that I have not really continued my reading on this topic and do not feel qualified to offer general analyses of Islamic fundamentalism as a global phenomenon at this point (nor am I sure I ever will…)
I definitely still feel absolutely scandalized when people posturing as radicals start treating organizations like Hamas or Hizbollah as anything other than political enemies of the worst kind, (fascists for example). But I do feel the need to better understand how fundamentalism works, and, another issue, how exactly it came to pass that so many people in Palestine support Hamas and so many people in Lebanon are tied to Hezbollah. The whole issue makes me so sad and uncomfortable, that’s why I haven’t delved into the topic more, I guess.
But there are some things I would not write in the same way.
There have been at least two general, related changes in my political thinking and feeling since the time of the writing of the text, a move away from “classical” antinational positions, and a change in my approach to politics in general.
From 1988 on I had started getting more interested in the critique of Left, specifically German Left, anti-semitism. I began reading a lot of texts and articles from what later became the “antinational” tendency of the German radical left, with its more extreme wing developing into what is called the “antideutsche” (antiGerman) current. I started identifying more and more as an antinational leftist, increasingly abandoning my former, somewhat ambivalent identification and ties with the German “autonomous left”, but never became a member of any group or network of the antinational tendency. I disliked the (physical, relational, everyday…) culture of that milieu as much as or even more than that of the autonomous left scene I already knew, and from the beginning I was very unhappy with the antifeminism and lack of interest in colonial, color and anti-islamic racism in this scene, which was, at least at the beginning, very white, middle-class, German and male-dominated.
So from the start I was searching for a synthesis of feminist, antiracist and antinational critiques, which has, in the meantime, led me further and further away from what passes for antinational politics in Germany today.
I realized how large the political gap had become when I recently showed a French film about and against the anti-headscarf law in France (“Un racisme à peine voilé”, see www.hprod.com) for which I had done the English subtitles, to a mostly German antinational left audience in Berlin. I was really annoyed with a lot of these white Germans, who seemed to have no sense of their speaking position as members of a nation where antiislamic racism is the dominant tendency.
A lot of the people present at the screening seemed convinced that just because in Germany there are loads of Left idiots who want to make friends with anyone who hates the US for whatever reason, and just because there are lots of romantic islamophiles, and horrible antisemitic antiimperialists who have all kinds of weird “positive” projections on Arabs, “islamophilia” is the dominant phenomenon in Germany.
And typically, hardly anyone showed interest in having a debate on feminism and racism, which the film could have been an entry point for.
At the time of the writing of the “anti-war” text, I had not really read a lot about Israel/Palestine and looking back I find some of the things I said and did at the time painfully naïve.
In the meantime I have read up quite a bit on the history of Zionism, of Arab nationalism, of Israel/Palestine, on the question of antisemitism in the Arab and Muslim “worlds”, on antisemitism in other parts of the word, on the history of Mizrahi Jews and on the question of how when where and why Jews were/are/became “white”…
Still, I am happy to say that even in the early eighties, when dissenting voices to conventional radical left antizionism with its horrible simplifications and its antisemitic tendencies were extremely rare, I did not quite swim with the current. I am also happy to say that after my conversion to antinational leftism, I did not, like many others in the tendency, become a staunch defender of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. But I did always tend to be more interested in what Jewish people felt and did than in the Palestininan perspective and experience. It was actually reading Jewish Israeli and other Jewish post-Zionist historians that led me to take a more and more critical view of the Zionist project over the years.
I will try to say more later on where I am at as to the development, from a (pro)feminist, anticapitalist, and anti-national perspective, of a discourse clearly opposed to colonial and
color racism, and specifically anti-islamic racism, that is equally clearly opposed to and interested in all types of antisemitism. A discourse that would refuse unwarranted amalgamations and reductions, that would not sacrifice criticism for tactical political reasons, yet recognize the
importance of context and speaking positions for the meaning, function and impact of texts, that would pay attention to different national and cultural contexts.
For now I’ll just say I find my formulations regarding the Israel Palestine issue in the 2001 text weak and entirely unsatisfactory.
Which brings me to the second change in my political thinking and feeling since 2001, that in my approach to politics in general. It was the failure of a project I was trying to start up at the time of the writing of the text, later called the “Crossover Project” (see www.summercamp.squat.net for the virtual remains of the initiative) that brought home to me the simple fact that if people like me really want to connect with a broader spectrum of people than just white, educated people from the middle classes, we need to address concrete issues that less privileged people are directly affected by, develop common practices around such issues, and so provide the possibility for people from very different backgrounds to get to know and trust each other. Everything else does not work.
I am not ashamed of the fact that, really, my entry point to radical politics is this strange desire to develop a satisfactory critique of society. It is not directly the suffering of the oppressed that moves me in the first instance, that comes later.
For me, theoretical activity is a kind of self-defense against the aggressive ideological brainwashing we are subjected to every day of our lives, and it is a way of self-affirmation. Being a radical intellectual is an essential part of what I feel to be my Self.
But I wish to be an intellectual that is useful to radical social change. The older I get the more I “really realize” how much this desire for theory of mine is a luxury, something the great majority of people in this world do not have the time, the money, the “headspace” for.
When I reread some of my older texts it is painfully obvious to me that when writing them, I was really much more interested in developing a theoretical critique than in finding a political strategy that would connect such a critique to real social movements or potential social actors…
In “a constructive critique…” I write about the “necessity of beginning to forge transnational alliances between libertarian leftists and feminists all over the world, including the ‘islamic world’ and israel, and the necessity of finding a transnational consensus over capitalism, sexism, racism and antisemitism” – but not a word on HOW this task is to be achieved…
Today I feel that that won’t do at all. Nor will it do to just say that “what precise form such a solution” [to the Israel Palestine conflict] “could take and whether there can be any solution at all in a world of patriarchal capitalist nation states is a question best left open…” in a text that claims to be a serious political intervention in current debates.