Monday, September 17, 2007

Life And Fate and Anti-Semitism

Having written extensively for my other blog Screw Loose Change, I have done a lot of research on people (conspiracy theorists specifically) who would generally be considered as anti-Semites. We get a lot of people responding that we shouldn't be attacking people for that, or that we are just launching ad hominem attacks, and that Jews should not receive some type of special status because of their religion.

While I agree that, for the most part, it is not intrinsically morally superior to be, say, anti-Muslim than anti-Jewish, I also believe that there is something unique about anti-Semitism. We do not live in a bubble, there is a very specific historical context to anti-Semitism, that is not present in, for example, making fun of Hindus working in convenience stores.

I am in the middle of reading the novel Life and Fate (Zhizn' i sud'ba) by Vasily Grossman, and when I say in the middle, at nearly 900 pages, I really am. Life and Fate, which was written in the 1960s, but only recently published is about the war on the Eastern Front in general, and the battle for Stalingrad in particular. But it is also about the Holocaust and the fate of the Jewish people. Grossman, who was one of the first journalists to report about the Nazi concentration camps, knows about what he talks. In this section, from page 484, he describes the nature of anti-Semitism far better than I ever could.

Anti-Semitism can take many forms - from a mocking, contemptuous ill-will to murderous pogroms.

Anti-Semitism can be met with in the market and in the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences, in the soul of an old man and in the games children play in the yard.
Anti-Semitism has been as strong in the age of atomic reactors and computers as in the age of oil-lamps, sailing boats and spinning-wheels.

Anti-Semitism is always a means rather than and end; it is a measure of the contradictions yet to be resolved. It is a mirror for the failings of individuals, social structures, and State systems. Tell me what you accuse the Jews of - I'll tell you what you're guilty of.

Even Oleinichuk, the peasant fighter for freedom who was imprisoned in Schlusselburg, somehow expressed his hatred for serfdom as a hatred for Poles and Yids. Even a genius like Dostoyevsky saw a Jewish userer where he should have seen the pitiless eyes of a Russian serf-owner, industrialist or contractor. And in accusing the Jews of racism, a desire for world domination and a cosmopolitan indifference towards the German fatherland, National Socialism was merely describing its own features.

Anti-Semitism is also an expression of a lack of talent, an inability to win a contest on equal terms - in science or in commerce, in craftsmanship or painting. States look to the imaginary intrigue of world Jewry for explanations of their own failure.

At the same time anti-Semitism is an expression of the lack of consciousness of the masses, of their inability to understand the true reasons for their sufferings. Ignorant people blame the Jews for their troubles when they should blame the social structure or the State itself. Anti-Semitism is also, of course, a measure of the religious prejudices smouldering in the lower levels of society.