Monday, February 04, 2008

A bit of a myth

Serious question: has Nick Cohen ever read George Orwell? In the comments to Captain Cabernet's post, Don Paskini points us to a review of What's Left.

There are some things you need to know about this review. Take it away D of Lawyers, Guns and Money:

First, to demonstrate that Jonah Goldberg will literally re-print almost anything he's sent, provided that it makes some positive, vacuous observation about his book.


Apparently on page 89 of the US edition (presumably) of "What's Left" Nick writes:

The reason communism doesn't seem all bad to me is the same reason the BBC gives airtime to Trotskyite comedians but not to Neo-nazi raconteurs: the far left was meant to be solidly against the extreme right. In reality, the anti-fascist left was a bit of a myth. Communists and fascists worked together against liberalism many times in the Twenties and Thirties. Rationally, I know it was a natural partnership because the similarities between communism and fascism were more important than the differences. But viscerally to anyone brought up on the Left after the Second World War, an unwavering opposition to fascism was the trait in which we could take the greatest pride. There was a hierarchy. The best society was some form of socialism that varied according to taste, and like the kingdom of God never came. The runner-up was what we had: a liberal democracy with a mixed economy. The lowest of the low was fascism or some other kind of chauvinism.


How was "the anti-fascist left was a bit of a myth"? Good grief: George Orwell was always anti-fascist, and published by the Left Book Club, Tribune, and the New Statesman. And he wasn't uncommon in his anti-fascism. "But viscerally to anyone brought up on the Left after the Second World War, an unwavering opposition to fascism was the trait in which we could take the greatest pride." I always thought that the unwavering opposition to Nazism was shared with a fair slice of the right (including Churchill), so if pressed I'd have said that "the trait in which [the left] could take the greatest pride" was free health and education. But maybe I'm odd. Also note that that paragraph starts with the allegation that 'the left' has a 'natural partnership' with fascism against liberalism and ends with the left reflexively preferring liberalism to fascism. Confused? You will be!

"Communists and fascists worked together against liberalism many times in the Twenties and Thirties." Can someone explain the following terms, preferably with examples: 'communists', 'fascists', 'worked together', 'liberalism' and 'many times'.

We have mentioned Jonah Goldberg's book before where I suggested that Nick Cohen might review it. No Cuban cigar for me! Fans of Liberal Fascism may wish to keep up with the accompanying blog.

How's this for an endorsement?

[Jonah Goldberg] I haven't read the book [What's Left?], though I've heard good things and it sits on my pile of to-read books.


And here is Goldberg with Jon Stewart.

18 Comments:

Blogger Alex said...

The reference is usually to the situation in Germany in 1931-3, when the Communists and the Nazis were operating the so-called negative coalition against the Social Democrats, Liberals(DVP), Catholic Centrists and conservative nationalists (DNVP). Essentially they both refused to co-operate with any party and therefore prevented the creation of a government with majority support.

At local level they went a lot further; the Berlin May Day riot of 1930 (I think) was a co-production.

2/04/2008 07:49:00 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

More broadly there was a lot of crossfertilisation between the two; the most common past affiliation for a stormtrooper was the RFV, the Communist thug wing, and I wouldn't be surprised if the reverse had been true for a while at least. Somewhere among my old university essays I have a copy of a Nazi poster aimed at recruiting Communist Youth members into the Hitler Youth.

Note, of course, that the prime target of this cooperation was the SPD.

2/04/2008 07:53:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Thanks Alex. So Nick has a point with the 'worked together' bit. That still doesn't disprove the popular understanding that 'the left' was anti-Fascist. Jesus Christ, where does he think the anti-Franco brigades in the Spanish Civil War came from?

2/04/2008 08:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris Baldwin said...

Surely the reason we don't think a trotskyist is as bad as a neo-Nazi is that being a neo-Nazi involves hating minority groups and wanting to kill them? The crimes of Communism are well known, but the average western Communist or whatever probably has a lot fewer murderous impulses towards his fellow citizens than the average neo-Nazi. Also Communists at least claim to believe in democracy, and most trotskyists probably actually do in some way, whereas neo-Nazism is explicitly in favour of dictatorship.

2/04/2008 09:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris Baldwin said...

That is to say, the end results may be similar, but the people who actually believe in fascism and Communism tend to be rather different and I'd rather have a pinko round for tea than a brownshirt.

2/04/2008 09:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Note, of course, that the prime target of this cooperation was the SPD.

...that well-known bastion of liberalism.

It's true that the Communist Parties of the world can't go in the Entirely Consistently Anti-Fascist column, and that is pretty disgraceful. But (a) there aren't that many political forces that do go in that column and (b) Nick's claim goes a lot further than that. (Against liberalism?)

2/04/2008 10:34:00 PM  
Anonymous fallhammer said...

"I always thought that the unwavering opposition to Nazism was shared with a fair slice of the right (including Churchill)" doesn't logically mean that the left couldn't take great pride in it. Though it might be indicative of the way NC sees these things, in that the monolithic/true 'left' was more consistently anti-fascist than the monolithic/true 'right'.

And I know it's a canard, but... the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact? Has anyone mentioned that Stalin was a bad man?

2/05/2008 05:58:00 AM  
Anonymous matty groves said...

"the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact?"
Nick thinks that pact is barely remembered today, so maybe he didn't want to refer to an obscure historic event that few people will have heard of.

2/05/2008 08:47:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

So Nick has a point with the 'worked together' bit.

He does, but only if he omits the footnote which says that the policy of co-operation was opposed by just about everybody else on the Left at the time and absolutely everybody on the Left (including its original supporters) since.

It's rather like the technique of finding something stupid and disgraceful in the comments box of your adversary's blog: it might mean something, but it can't (or rather, shouldn't) be used as evidence of a wider agreement with that particular stupidity, not unless you can actually see people in general agreeing with it.

2/05/2008 08:51:00 AM  
Anonymous rioja kid said...

Well it's a rum do if you think that Isaac Deutscher and Oswald Mosely were, for all intents and purposes, politically identical. And incidentally: wasn't "Trotsky fascist" originally a Stalinist conception?

2/05/2008 12:04:00 PM  
OpenID splinteredsunrise said...

I refer Nick to James Klugmann's classic From Trotsky To Tito. It may give him cause to reflect, although probably not.

2/05/2008 12:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Well it's a rum do if you think that Isaac Deutscher and Oswald Mosely were, for all intents and purposes, politically identical.

Indeed, but it's not unknown to think that way these days. I dropped Paul Anderson's blog from my feed over a similar argument.

And incidentally: wasn't "Trotsky fascist" originally a Stalinist conception?

Ho yus, although obviously that was before Molotov met Ribbentrop. As far as I know there were never any grounds for it whatsoever; if you really wanted to find a group which had never taken the side of Hitler or Mussolini or Franco or any of their local franchisees, the Fourth International wouldn't be a bad place to look. (And the councillists and the libertarian communists, of course, but nobody ever asks about them.)

Really what Nick's doing is taking a good solid ultra-left argument against Stalinism and applying it from the rough standpoint of New Labour, where it feeds into a rather different anti-Stalinist narrative. Communism compromised with Fascism (for three years), this tells us something about the intrinsic nature of Communism, and therefore we should be... 'liberal'. Hmmm.

2/05/2008 01:11:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

But surely Nick's against liberals?

2/05/2008 01:35:00 PM  
Anonymous rioja kid said...

He's only against those liberals who can't see the equivalence between Trotskyism and fascism bevcause they're mired in moral equivalence.

2/05/2008 02:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suspect that we're going to see more of this kind of thing from the Decents. For example there was a rather nasty, smeary piece from Alan "NTM" Johnson on CiF (Perry Anderson had said something that was similar to something said by Pat Buchanan about the Israeli Lobby so therefore etc etc ....) The Decents need to keep reassuring themselves and the Blairites that, despite being in favour of ignoring international law and despite their favourite policies turning Iraq into a failed state, they really are the decent Left and everyone else on the Left is only half an inch away from supporting Hitler.

2/05/2008 02:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

a rather nasty, smeary piece from Alan "NTM" Johnson on CiF (Perry Anderson had said something that was similar to something said by Pat Buchanan about the Israeli Lobby so therefore etc etc ....)

that was a very embarassing piece. Not least for this:

The case against the idea that Israel controls US foreign policy via its "lobby" has been made. (See this post at Jeff Weintraub's blog.)

the post it links to is just an inconclusive set of reviews and letters page discussion from the LRB. There's no 'case' there at all, just a load of miscellaneous negative reviews.

And if a list of negative reviews from people of diverse political affiliations 'makes a case' against a political theory then Nick Cohen - whose postscript, hilariously, Johnson links to in the same article - is in pretty serious trouble.

Something odd about Decent writing at the moment, too, is that they routinely use 'Marxist' as if it is inherently a bad thing (see Cohen and Aaro on Eagleton and Alan NTM on Perry Anderson).

But the negative use of the word 'neocon', according to Johnson, is obviously a limit to debate and a sign of unseriousness isn't it?

2/05/2008 07:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The piece by Alan NTM was full of the same bad habit that he had been complaining about in his Neoconitis piece, except that the words were "Marxist" and "Paleo-con" among others.

Perhaps we should get the other Alan J to send a doctor round to deal with this outbreak of neoconitis!

2/05/2008 09:11:00 PM  
Blogger StuartA said...

If this is the line they're following then doesn't it cut against the usual "true left" claim? I hate to mention him again, but Kamm's lousy book was all about how the Left was always anti-totalitarian. He has a chapter devoted to Labour opposition to appeasement.

On another note, I think people are giving Cohen too much credit on the pre-war German fascist-communist "work[ing] together".

It is hardly a clear cut case, as far as I know. Aside from Moscow's influence, there was of course the SDP's actions in the 1919 revolution. To characterise communist actions after this as some sort of alliance with the fascists seems rather simplistic. I'm sure people here know this. I just think the comments as they stand give a rather skewed impression of the situation.

2/06/2008 01:22:00 AM  

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