the couple Symptom / Fetish
Islamo-Fascism, Christo-Fascism, Zionism
mieux vaut un désastre qu’un désêtre
There are two different modes of ideological mystification which should in no way be confused: the liberal-democratic one and the Fascist one. The first one concerns false universality: the subject advocates freedom/equality, not being aware of implicit qualifications which, in their very form, constrain its scope (privileging certain social strata: rich, male, belonging to a certain race or culture). The second one concerns the false identification of the antagonism and the enemy: class struggle is displaced onto the struggle against the Jews, so that the popular rage at being exploited is redirected from capitalist relations as such to the “Jewish plot.” So, to put it in naively-hermeneutic terms, in the first case, “when the subject says ‘freedom and equality,’ he really means ‘freedom of trade, equality in front of the law’ etc.,” and, in the second case, “when the subject says ‘Jews are the cause of our misery,’ he really means ‘big capital is the cause of our misery’.” The asymmetry is clear – to put it again in naïve terms, in the first case, the “good” explicit content (freedom/equality) covers up the “bad” implicit content (class and other privileges and exclusions), while in the second case, the “bad” explicit content (anti-Semitism) covers the “good” implicit content (class struggle, hatred of exploitation).
For anyone versed in psychoanalytic theory, the inner structure of the two ideological mystifications is that of the couple symptom/fetish: the implicit limitations are the symptoms of liberal egalitarianism (singular returns of the repressed truth), while “Jew” is the fetish of anti-Semitic Fascists (the “last thing the subject sees” before confronting class struggle). This asymmetry has crucial consequences for the critico-ideological process of demystification: apropos liberal egalitarianism, it is not enough to make the old Marxist point about the gap between the ideological appearance of the universal legal form and the particular interests that effectively sustain it – as is so common amongst politically-correct critics on the Left. The counter-argument that the form is never a “mere form,” but involves a dynamic of its own which leaves traces in the materiality of social life, made by theoreticians such as Claude Lefort  and Jacques Rancière,  is fully valid – it was the bourgeois “formal freedom” which set in motion the process of altogether “material” political demands and practices, from trade unions to feminism. One should resist the cynical temptation of reducing it to a mere illusion that conceals a different actuality. That would be to fall into the trap of the old Stalinist hypocrisy which mocked “merely formal” bourgeois freedom: if it was so merely formal and didn’t disturb the true relations of power, why, then, didn’t the Stalinist regime allow it? Why was it so afraid of it?
The interpretive demystification is thus here relatively easy, since it mobilizes the tension between form and content: to be consequent, an “honest” liberal democrat will have to admit that the content of his ideological premises belies its form, and thus radicalize the form (the egalitarian axiom) by way of implementing it more thoroughly onto the content. (The main alternative is the retreat into cynicism: “we know egalitarianism is an impossible dream, so let us pretend that we are egalitarians, while silently accepting necessary limitations…”). In the case of “Jew” as the Fascist fetish, the interpretive demystification is much more difficult (thereby confirming the clinical insight that a fetishist cannot be undermined through interpretation of the “meaning” of his fetish – fetishist feel satisfied in their fetish, they experience no need to get rid of it). In practical-political terms, this means that it is almost impossible to “enlighten” an exploited worker who blames “Jews” for his misery, explaining him how “Jew” is a wrong enemy, promoted by his true enemy (the ruling class) to blur the lines of the true struggle, and thus getting him to move from “Jews” to “capitalists.” (Even empirically, while many Communists joined Nazis in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, and while many disappointed Communists in France in the last decades turned into partisans of le Pen’s National Front, the opposite process was extremely rare.) To put it in crude political terms, the paradox is thus that, although the subject of the first mystification is primarily the enemy (the liberal “bourgeois” who thinks he fights for universal equality and freedom), while the subject of the second mystification are primarily “our own,” the underprivileged themselves (who are seduced into redirecting their rage at a wrong target), the effective-practical “demystification” is much easier in the first case.
With regard to today’s situation of ideological struggle, this means that one should at least view with profound suspicion those Leftists who argue that the Muslim fundamentalist-populist movements are basically “ours,” emancipatory anti-imperialist movements, and that the fact that they formulate their program in directly anti-Enlightenment and anti-universalist terms, sometimes getting close to direct anti-Semitism, is just a confusion that results from their being caught into the immediacy of struggle (“when they say they are against Jews, what they really mean is just that they are against the Zionist colonialism”). One should unconditionally resist the temptation to “understand” the Arab anti-Semitism (where we really encounter it) as a “natural” reaction to the sad plight of the Palestinians: there should be no “understanding” for the fact that, in many, if not most, of the Arab countries, Hitler is still considered a hero, the fact that, in the primary school textbooks, all the traditional anti-Semitic myths, from the notorious forged Protocols of the Zion Elders to the claims that Jews use the blood of Christian (or Arab) children for sacrificial purposes, are attributed to them. To claim that this anti-Semitism articulates in a displaced mode the resistance against capitalism in no way justifies it: displacement is not here a secondary operation, but the fundamental gesture of ideological mystification. What this claim does involve is the idea that, in the long term, the only way to fight anti-Semitism is not to preach liberal tolerance, etc., but to articulate the underlying anti-capitalist motive in a direct, non-displaced, way. Once we accept this logic, we make the first step on the path at the end of which is the quite “logical” conclusion that, since Hitler also “really meant” capitalists when he spoke of “Jews,” he should be our strategic ally in the global anti-imperialist struggle, with the Anglo-American empire as the principal enemy. (And this line of reasoning is not a mere rhetorical exercise: the Nazis did promote anti-colonialist struggle in Arab countries and in India, and many neo-Nazis do sympathize with the Arab struggle against the State of Israel. (What makes the unique figure of Jacques Verges, the “advocate of terror,” a universal phenomenon is that he embodies this option of “solidarity” between Fascism and anti-colonialism.) It would have been a fatal mistake to think that, at some future moment, we will convince the Fascists that their “real” enemy is the capital, and that they should drop the particular religious/ethnic/racist form of their ideology and join forces with egalitarian universalism. So one should clearly reject the dangerous motto “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” which leads us to discover “progressive” anti-imperialist potential in fundamentalist Islamist movements. The ideological universe of movements like Hezbollah is based on the blurring of distinctions between capitalist neo-imperialism and secular progressive emancipation: within the Hezbollah ideological space, women’s emancipation, gay rights, etc., are nothing but the “decadent” moral aspect of Western imperialism… Badiou concedes that “there is an internal limitation to these movements, bound as they are to religious particularity” – is, however, this limitation only a short term one, as Badiou seems to imply, something that these movements will (have to) overcome in the proverbial “second, higher” stage of their development, when they will (have to) universalize themselves? Badiou is right to note that the problem here is not religion as such, but its particularity – and is this particularity not now a fatal limitation of these movements, whose ideology is directly the anti-Enlightenment one?
More precisely, one should specify that the internal limitation of these movements is not their religious character as such, no matter how “fundamentalist” it is, but their practico-ideological attitude towards the universalist emancipatory project based upon the axiom of equality. To make this key point clear, let us recall the tragic case of the Canudos community in Brasil at the end of the XIXth century: this was a “fundamentalist” community if there ever was one, run by the fanatic “Councilor,” advocating theocracy and return to monarchy – but at the same time an enacted Communist utopia with no money or laws, communal property, full egalitarian solidarity, equality of men and women, free right to divorce, etc. – this dimension is lacking in the Muslim “fundamentalism,” no matter how “anti-imperialist” it pretends to be. Moishe Postone made this point clearly:
The disastrous nature of the /Iraq/ war and, more generally, of the Bush administration should not obscure that in both cases progressives found themselves faced with what should have been viewed as a dilemma — a conflict between an aggressive global imperial power and a deeply reactionary counter-globalization movement in one case, and a brutal fascistic regime in the other. /…/ Anti-Semitism, consequently, can appear to be anti-hegemonic. This is the reason why a century ago August Bebel, the German Social Democratic leader, characterized it as the socialism of fools. Given its subsequent development, it could also have been called the anti-imperialism of fools. /…/ Rather than analyzing this reactionary form of resistance in ways that would help support more progressive forms of resistance, however, many on the Western Left have either ignored it or rationalized it as an unfortunate, if understandable, reaction to Israeli policies in Gaza and the West Bank. /…/ Their opposition to the United States has not been in the name of a more progressive alternative. On the contrary, the Baath regime in Iraq — a regime whose oppressive character and brutality far exceeded that of, for example, the murderous military regimes in Chile and Argentina in the 1970s and 1980s — could not be considered progressive or potentially progressive in any way. 
But even in the case of “clearly” fundamentalist movements, one should be careful not to trust the media. Taliban are regularly presented as a fundamentalist Islamist group enforcing with terror its rule – however, when, in the Spring of 2009, they took over the Swat valley in Pakistan, New York Times reported that they engineered “a class revolt that exploits profound fissures between a small group of wealthy landlords and their landless tenants”:
In Swat, accounts from those who have fled now make clear that the Taliban seized control by pushing out about four dozen landlords who held the most power. To do so, the militants organized peasants into armed gangs that became their shock troops /…/. The Taliban’s ability to exploit class divisions adds a new dimension to the insurgency and is raising alarm about the risks to Pakistan, which remains largely feudal.
Mahboob Mahmood, a Pakistani-American lawyer and former classmate of President Obama’s, said, ‘The people of Pakistan are psychologically ready for a revolution.’ Sunni militancy is taking advantage of deep class divisions that have long festered in Pakistan. “The militants, for their part, are promising more than just proscriptions on music and schooling,” he said. “They are also promising Islamic justice, effective government and economic redistribution.” 
Thomas Altizer  spelled out the implications and consequences of this new data (new to our Western ears): “Now it is finally being revealed that the Taliban is a genuine liberating force assaulting an ancient feudal rule in Pakistan and freeing the vast peasant majority from that rule. /…/ Hopefully we will now be given a genuine criticism of the Obama administration which is far more dangerous than the Bush administration both because it is being given such a free hand and because it is a far stronger administration.” The political consequence of this paradox is the properly dialectical tension between long term strategy and short term tactical alliances: although, in the long term, the very success of the radical-emancipatory struggle depends on mobilizing the lower classes which are today often in the thralls of fundamentalist populism, one should have no problems with concluding short term alliances with egalitarian liberals as part of the anti-sexist and anti-racist struggle.
What phenomena like Taliban demonstrate is that Walter Benjamin’s old thesis “every rise of Fascism bears witness to a failed revolution” not only still holds today, but is perhaps more pertinent than ever. Liberals like to point out similarities between Left and Right “extremisms”: Hitler’s terror and camps imitated Bolshevik terror, the Leninist party is today alive in al Qaida – yes, but what does all this mean? It can also be read as an indication of how Fascism literally replaces (takes the place of) the Leftist revolution: its rise is the Left’s failure, but simultaneously a proof that there was a revolutionary potential, dissatisfaction, which the Left was not able to mobilize. And does the same not hold for today’s so-called (by some people) “Islamo-Fascism”? Is the rise of radical Islamism not exactly correlative to the disappearance of the secular Left in Muslim countries? Today, when Afghanistan is portrayed as the utmost Islamic fundamentalist country, who still remembers that, 30 years ago, it was a country with strong secular tradition, up to a powerful Communist party which took power there independently of the Soviet Union? Where did this secular tradition disappear? In Europe, exactly the same goes for Bosnia: back in the 1970s and 1980s, Bosnia and Herzegovina was (multi)culturally the most interesting and alive of all Yugoslav republics, with an internationally-recognized cinema school and a unique style of rock music; in today’s Bosnia, there are effectively strong fundamentalist forces (like the Muslim fundamentalist crowd which brutally attacked the gay parade in Sarajevo in September 2008). The main reason of this regression is the desperate situation of Muslim Bosnians in the 1992-1995 war, when they were basically abandoned by the Western powers to the Serb guns. (And, as Thomas Frank has shown, the same goes for Kansas, the US homegrown version of Afghanistan: the very state which was till the 1970s the bedrock of radical Leftist populism, is today the bedrock of Christian fundamentalism  – does this not confirm again Benjamin’s thesis that every Fascism is an index of a failed revolution?)
Let’s deal now with the following proposition: is the term “Islamo-Fascism” proposed (among others) by Francis Fukuyama and Bernard Henri-Levy justified? What renders it problematic is not only the religious qualification (is one then also ready to designate our Western Fascism as “Christo-Fascism”? – Fascism in itself is enough, it needs no qualifiers), but the very designation of today’s “fundamentalist” Islamic movements and states as “Fascist.” It is a fact that (more or less open) anti-Semitism is present in these movements and states, and that there are historical links between Arab nationalism and European Fascism and Nazism; however, anti-Semitism does not play in the Muslim fundamentalism the exact role it plays in European Fascism, that of the external intruder responsible for the disintegration of one’s own (once) “harmonious” society – there is one big difference which cannot but strike the eye. For the Nazis, the worst enemy were Jews as the nomadic, stateless and rootless people corrupting the community within which they live, so that, for them, the State of Israel is a solution (one of them, at least) – no wonder that, before deciding to kill all the Jews, the Nazis played with the idea of giving them a land to form a state (from Madagascar to Palestine itself). For today’s “anti-Zionist” Arabs, on the contrary, it is the state of Israel which is the problem: the most radical of them call for the obliteration of the State of Israel, i.e., for the return of the Jews to their stateless/nomadic status.
We all known the anti-Communist characterization of Marxism as “the Islam of XXth century,”secularizing Islam’s abstract fanaticism. Jean-Pierre Taguieff, the liberal historian of anti-Semitism, turned this characterization around: Islam is turning out to be “the Marxism of XXIst century,” prolonging, after the decline of Communism, its violent anticapitalism. However, if we take into account Benjamin’s idea of Fascism as occupying the place of the failed revolution, the “rational core” of such inversions can be easily accepted by Marxists. The most catastrophic conclusion that can be drawn from this constellation is the one drawn by Moishe Postone and some of his colleagues: since every crisis which opens up a space for radical Left also gives rise to anti-Semitism, it is better for us to support successful capitalism and hope there will be no crisis. Brought to its conclusion, this reasoning implies that, ultimately, anti-capitalism is as such anti-Semitic… It is against such reasoning that one has to read Badiou’s motto mieux vaut un désastre qu’un désêtre: one has to take the risk of the fidelity to an Event, even if the Event ends up in an “obscure disaster.” The difference between liberalism and the radical Left is that, although they refer to the same three elements (liberal center, populist Right, radical Left), they locate them in a radically different topology: for the liberal center, radical Left and Right are the two forms of appearance of the same “totalitarian” excess, while for the Left, the only true alternative is the one between itself and the liberal mainstream, with the populist “radical” Right as nothing but the symptom of the liberalism’s inability to deal with the Leftist threat. When we hear today a politician or an ideologist offering us a choice between liberal freedom and fundamentalist oppression, and triumphantly asking a (purely rhetorical) question “Do you want women to be excluded from public life and deprived of their elementary rights? Do you want every critic or mocking of religion to be punished by death?”, what should make us suspicious is the very self-evidence of the answer – who would have wanted that? The problem is that such a simplistic liberal universalism long ago lost its innocence. This is why, for a true Leftist, the conflict between liberal permissiveness and fundamentalism is ultimately a false conflict – a vicious cycle of two poles generating and presupposing each other. One should accomplish here a Hegelian step back and put in question the very measure from which fundamentalism appears in all its horror. Liberals have long ago lost their right to judge. What Horkheimer had said should also be applied to today’s fundamentalism: those who do not want to talk (critically) about liberal democracy and its noble principles should also keep quiet about religious fundamentalism. And, even more pointedly, one should insist that the Middle East conflict between the State of Israel and the Arabs is an emphatically false conflict: even if we will all die because of it, it is a conflict which mystifies the true issues. So what is effectively going on there?
To get at the true dimension of news, it is sometimes enough to read two disparate news items together – meaning emerges from their very link, like a spark exploding from an electric short-circuit. On March 1 2009, it was reported  that the Israeli government has drafted plans to build more than 70,000 new housing units in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank; if implemented, the plans could increase the number of settlers in the Palestinian territories by about 300,000 – a move that would not only severely undermine the chances of a viable Palestinian state, but also hamper the everyday life of Palestinians. A government spokesman dismissed the report, arguing that the plans were therefore of limited relevance: the actual construction of new homes in the settlements required the approval of the defense minister and prime minister. However, 15,000 of then plans have already been fully approved; plus, almost 20,000 of the planned units lie in settlements that are far from the ”green line” that separates Israel from the West Bank, i.e., in the areas which Israel cannot expect to retain in any future peace deal with the Palestinians. The conclusion is obvious: while paying lip-service to the two-state solution, Israel is busy creating the situation on ground which will render a two-state solution de facto impossible.
On the very same day these reports hit the media (March 2), Hilary Clinton criticized the rocket fire from Gaza as “cynical,” claiming: “There is no doubt that any nation, including Israel, cannot stand idly by while its territory and people are subjected to rocket attacks.” But should the Palestinians stand idly while the West Bank land is taken from them day by day? When Israeli peace-loving liberals present their conflict with Palestinians in neutral “symmetrical” terms, admitting that there are extremists on both sides who reject peace, etc., one should ask a simple question: what goes on in the Middle East when nothing goes on there at the direct politico-military level (i.e., when there are no tensions, attacks, negotiations)? What goes on is the incessant slow work of taking the land from the Palestinians on the West Bank: the gradual strangling of the Palestinian economy, the parcelling of their land, the building of new settlements, the pressure on Palestinian farmers to make them abandon their land (which goes from crop burning and religious desecrating up to individual killings), all this supported by a Kafkaesque network of legal regulations. Saree Makdisi, in Palestine Inside out: An Everyday Occupation,  described how, although the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank is ultimately enforced by the armed forces, it is an “occupation by bureaucracy”: its primary forms are application forms, title deeds, residency papers and other permits. It is this micro-management of the daily life which does the job of securing the slow but steadfast Israeli expansion: one has to ask for a permit in order to leave with one’s family, to farm one’s own land, to dig a well, to go to work, to school, to a hospital… One by one, Palestinians born in Jerusalem are thus stripped of the right to live there, prevented to earn a living, denied housing permits, etc. Palestinians often use the problematic cliché of the Gaza strip as “the greatest concentration camp in the world” – however, in the last year, this designation has come dangerously close to truth. This is the fundamental reality which makes all abstract “prayers for peace” obscene and hypocritical. The State of Israel is clearly engaged in a slow process, invisible, ignored by the media, a kind of underground digging of the mole, so that, one day, the world will awaken and realize that there is no more Palestinian West Bank, that the land is Palestinian-free, and that we can only accept the fact.
In the last months of 2008, when the attacks of illegal West Bank settlers on Palestinian farmers grew into regular daily, the State of Israel tried to contain these excesses (the Supreme Court ordered the evacuation of some settlements, etc.); but, as many observers noted, these measures cannot but appear half-hearted, counteracting a politics which, at a deeper level, IS the long-term politics of the State of Israel which massively violates the international treaties signed by Israel itself. The reply of the illegal settlers to the Israeli authorities basically is: we are doing the same thing as you, just more openly, so what right do you have to condemn us? And the answer of the State basically is: be patient, don’t rush too much, we are doing what you want, just in a more moderate and acceptable way… The same story seems to go on from 1949: while Israel accepts the peace conditions proposed by international community, it counts that the peace plan will not work. The wild settlers sometimes sound like Brunhilde from the last act of Wagner’s Die Walkuere, reproaching Wotan that, by counteracting his explicit order and protecting Siegmund, she was only realizing Wotan’s own true desire which he was forced to renounce under external pressure, in the same way that the illegal settlers only realize the State’s true desire it was forced to renounce because of the pressure of the international community. While condemning the open violent excesses of “illegal” settlements, the State of Israel promotes new “legal” West Bank settlements, continues to strangle the Palestinian economy, etc. A look at the continuous changes of the map of the East Jerusalem, where the Palestinians are gradually encircled and their space sliced, tells it all. The condemnation of extra-statal anti-Palestinian violence obfuscates the true problem of state violence; the condemnation of “illegal” settlements obfuscates the illegality of the “legal” ones.
Furthermore, when the Western liberal defenders of peace in the Middle East oppose, among Palestinians, the democrats committed to compromise and peace and the Hamas radical fundamentalists, they fail to see the genesis of these two poles: the long and systematic endeavour by Israel and the USA to weaken the Palestinians by way of undermining the leading position of al Fatah, the endeavour which, up to 5 or 6 years ago, included even the financial support of Hamas. The sad result is that Palestinians are now divided between the Hamas fundamentalism and the Fatah corruption: the weakened al Fatah is no longer the hegemonic force which truly represents the substantial longings of the Palestinians (and is as such in a position to conclude peace); it is more and more perceived by the majority of Palestinians as what it is, a crippled puppet supported by the USA as the representative of the “democratic” Palestinians. Similarly, while the US worried about Sadam’s basically secular authoritarian regime in Iraq, the “talibanization” of their ally Pakistan progressed slowly but inexorably: Taliban’s control now already spreads over parts of Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city.
There is a shared interest on both sides of the conflict to see “fundamentalists in control” in Gaza: this characterization enables the fundamentalists to monopolize the struggle, and the Israelis to gain international sympathies. Consequently, although everyone deplores the rise of fundamentalism, no one really wants secular resistance to Israel among the Palestinians. But is it really true that there is none? What if there are two secrets in the Middle East conflict: secular Palestinians and Zionist fundamentalists – we have Arab fundamentalists arguing in secular terms and Jewish secular Westerners relying on theological reasoning:
The strange thing is that it was secular Zionism that brought god to bear so much on religious ideas. In a way, the true believers in Israel are the non-religious. This is so because for the religious life of an orthodox Jew god is actually quite marginal. There were times when for a member of the orthodox intellectual elite it was in a way ‘uncool’ to refer too much to god: a sign that he is not devoted enough to the real noble cause of the polemical study of Talmud (the continual movement of expansion of the law and evasion from it). It was only the crude secular Zionist gaze that took god, which was a sort of alibi, so seriously. The sad thing is that now more and more orthodox Jews seem convinced that they indeed believe in god. 
The paradoxical consequence of this ideological imbroglio is that today we are witnessing the last version of anti-Semitism which reached the extreme point of self-relating. The privileged role of Jews in the establishment of the sphere of the “public use of reason” hinges on their subtraction from every State-Power – this position of the “part of no-part” of every organic Nation-State community, not the abstract-universal nature of their monotheism, makes them immediate embodiment of universality. No wonder, then, that, with the establishment of the Jewish Nation-State, a new figure of the Jew emerged: a Jew resisting identification with the State of Israel, refusing to accept the State of Israel as his true home, a Jew who “subtracts” himself from this State, and who includes the State of Israel among the states towards which he insists on maintaining a distance, to live in their interstices – and it is this uncanny Jew who is the object of what one cannot but designate as “Zionist anti-Semitism,” the foreign excess disturbing the Nation-State community. These Jews, the “Jews of the Jews themselves,” worthy successors of Spinoza, are today the only Jews who continue to insist on the “public use of reason,” refusing to submit their reasoning to the “private” domain of Nation-State.
In his new book The Arrogance of the Present,  an exploration of the legacy of 1968, Jean-Claude Milner radically opposes such a reading. His book can also be read as a reply to Alain Badiou’s The Century, as well as to Badiou’s exploration of the politico-ideological implications of the “name of the Jew.” In an implicit, but for that reason all the more intense, dialogue with Badiou, Milner proposes a radically different diagnosis of the XXth century. His starting point is the same as Badiou’s: “a name counts only as far as the divisions it induces go.” Master-Signifiers which matter are those which clarify their field by simplifying the complex situation into a clear division – yes or no, for or against. Milner goes on: “But here is what happened: one day, it became obvious that names believed to bear a future (glorious or sinister) no longer divide anyone; and names dismissed as thoroughly obsolete began to bring about unbridgeable divisions.”(21-2) Names which today no longer divide, generate passionate attachment, but leave us indifferent, are those which traditionally were expected to act as the most mobilizing (“workers,” “class struggle”), while those which appeared deprived of their divisive edge violently re-emerged in their divisive role – today, the name Jew “divides most deeply the speaking beings”: “Contrary to what knowledge predicted, the culminating point of the /XXth/ century did not taker the form of social revolution; it took the form of an extermination. Contrary to what the Revolution has been promising, the extermination ignored classes and fixated on a name without any class meaning. Not even an economic one. Not a shadow of an objective meaning.”(214)
Milner’s conclusion is that ”the only true event of the XXth century was the return of the name Jew”(212) – this return for an ominous surprise also for the Jews themselves. That is to say, with the political emancipation of the Jews in modern Europe, a new figure of the Jew emerged: the “Jew of knowledge” who replaces study (of Talmud, i.e., of his theological roots) with universal (scientific) knowledge. We get Jews who excel in secular sciences, and this is why Marxism was so popular among Jewish intellectuals: it presented itself as “scientific socialism,” uniting knowledge and revolution (in contrast to Jacobins who proudly said, apropos Laplace, that “the Republic doesn’t need scientists,” or millenarists who dismissed knowledge as sinful). With Marxism, inequality/injustice and its overcoming becomes an object of knowledge.(201) Enlightenment thus offers European Jews a chance to find a place in the universality of scientific knowledge, ignoring their name, tradition, roots. This dream, however, brutally ended with holocaust: the “Jew of knowledge” couldn’t survive Nazi extermination – the trauma was that knowledge allowed it, wasn’t able to resist it, was impotent in the face of it. (Traces of this impotence are already discernible in the famous 1929 Davos debate between Ernst Cassirer and Heidegger, where Heidegger treated Cassirer with impolite rudeness, refusing a handshake at the conclusion, etc.)
How did the European Left react to this rupture? 1968 stands for a radical break in the mode of functioning of Leftist intellectuals. Throughout the 1950s, intellectuals who were Communist fellow-travelers obeyed two axioms, an explicit one and an implicit one: “an anti-Communist is a dog” (Sartre); an intellectual should never, under any condition, join the Communist Party.(29) Milner characterizes this attitude as “Zenonism,” referring to Zeno’s paradox of Achilles and the tortoise: a fellow-traveler is Achilles with regard to the Communist-Party-turtle: he is dynamic, faster, he overtakes the Party, but he always lags behind, i.e., he cannot ever reach it… With 1968, this game was over: 1968 was under the sign of “here-and-now,” it wanted a revolution NOW, with no postponements – one had to join the Party or be against it (as the Maoists were). In other words, 1968 wanted to unleash pure radical activity of the multitude of masses (in this sense, the Maoist “masses which make history” are to be opposed to the passive Fascist “crowds”) – there is no Other, no Elsewhere, on which one can transfer this activity. (If there was a philosopher of this pure activity, it was Deleuze.)
The core of Milner’s book is the close analysis of the Maoist Proletarian Left (la Gauche prolétarienne), the main political organization which emerged out of May 1968. When it fell apart, some of their members (like Benny Levy) opted for the fidelity to the name of the Jew, others chose Christian spirituality. For Milner, the entire activity of the Proletarian Left was based on a certain disavowal, on a refusal to pronounce a name. Milner proposes a nice Magrittean image: a room with a window in the middle, and a painting covering up and obstructing the view through the window; the scene on the painting exactly reproduces the exterior one would have seen through the window. Such is the function of ideological misrecognition: it obfuscates the true dimension of what we see.(183) In the case of the Proletarian Left, this unseen dimension was the name of the Jew. That is to say, the Proletarian Left legitimized its radical opposition to the entire French political establishment as the prolongation of the Resistance against the Fascist occupation: their diagnosis was that the French political life was still dominated by people who stood in direct continuity with the Petainist collaboration. However, although they designated the right enemy, they kept silent of the fact that the main target of the Fascist regime was not the Left, but the Jews. In short, they used the event itself to obfuscate its true dimension, similarly to the “Jew of knowledge” who tries to redefine his Jewishness so that he will be able to erase the real core of being a Jew.
It is here that a critical analysis should begin. When Milner claims that class struggle, etc., are no longer divisive names, that they are replaced by ”Jew” as the truly divisive name, he describes a (partially true) fact, but what does this fact mean? Can it also not be interpreted in the terms of the classic Marxist theory of anti-Semitism which reads the anti-Semitic figure of the “Jew” as the metaphoric stand-in for class struggle? The disappearance of the class struggle and the (re)appearance of anti-Semitism are thus two sides of the same coin, since the presence of the anti-Semitic figure of the “Jew” is only comprehensible against the background of the absence of class struggle. Walter Benjamin (to whom Milner himself refers as to an authority, and who stands precisely for a Marxist Jew who remains faithful to the religious dimension of Jewishness and is thus not a “Jew of knowledge”) said long ago that every rise of Fascism bears witness to a failed revolution – this thesis not only still holds today, but is perhaps more pertinent than ever. Liberals like to point out similarities between Left and Right “extremisms”: Hitler’s terror and camps imitated Bolshevik terror, the Leninist party is today alive in al Qaida – yes, but what does all this mean? It can also be read as an indication of how Fascism literally replaces (takes the place of) the Leftist revolution: its rise is the Left’s failure, but simultaneously a proof that there was a revolutionary potential, dissatisfaction, which the Left was not able to mobilize.
 Claude Lefort, The Political Forms of Modern Society: Bureaucracy, Democracy, Totalitarianism, Cambridge: MIT Press 1986.
 Jacques Rancière, Hatred of Democracy, London: Verso Books 2007.
 Moishe Postone, “History and Helplessness: Mass Mobilization and Contemporary Forms of Anticapitalism,” Public Culture, 2006 18:1.
 Jane Perlez and Pir Zubair Shah, “Taliban Exploit Class Rifts to Gain Ground in Pakistan,” New York Times, April 16 2009.
 Thomas Altizer, personal communication.
 Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, New York: Metropolitan Books 2004.
 Tobias Duck, “Israel drafts West Bank expansion plans,” Financial Times, March 2 2009.
 Saree Makdisi, Palestine Inside out: An Everyday Occupation, New York: Norton 2008.
 Noam Yuran, personal communication.
 Jean-Claude Milner, L’arrogance du présent. Regards sur une décennie: 1965-1975, Paris: Grasset 2009. Numbers in brackets refer to the pages of this book.