On April 29, Tony Greenstein, who claims to be a “socialist, anti-Zionist, anti-racist”, paid tribute to Hannah Arendt, who he said was “a Jewish pariah and daughter of the diaspora”. She was “the German-Jewish refugee whose universalism overcame her Zionism,” he told us on his blog. She was “the greatest Jewish political philosopher of the 20th century” no less.
This adulation says far more about the politics of Tony Greenstein than he wished. When asked about her lifelong adulation of Martin Heidegger - an avowed Nazi, with whom she had sexual affairs after 1923 and again after 1950 - Tony defended Heidegger and went as far as asserting that his philosophy had nothing to do with his politics, and he had done some good things, like not persecuting Jews as vigorously as he could have done under Hitler.
This bifurcation he compared to the impressionist, Salvador Dali, who, equally, had fascist sympathies (for Franco and Hitler), but supposedly produced great works of art. And he mentioned others in defence of his theory of Heidegger’s bifurcation, although he did not advance another similar absolute contradiction of philosophy/politics. Tony sees a few problems. “Hannah Arendt was an enigma. She rejected any materialist or class analysis in favour of a philosophical and metaphysical discourse.” Not a good start for “the greatest Jewish political philosopher of the 20th century”:
“Originally a Zionist, Arendt escaped the shackles and straitjacket of authoritarian nationalism. Zionism demands obedience to the Jewish Volk, above all from its intellectuals, which is one reason why it has produced so few … If I’m guilty of anti-Semitism for speaking the truth, then Hannah Arendt, the greatest Jewish political philosopher of the 20th century, is equally guilty, because this is exactly what she said in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: the banality of evil.”
This from one of Heidegger’s better speeches: “This will … must be our innermost certainty and never-faltering faith. For in what this will wills, we are only following the towering will of our Führer. To be his loyal followers means: to will that the German people shall find again, as a people of labour, its organic unity, its simple dignity and its true strength; and that, as a state of labour, it shall secure for itself permanence and greatness. To the man of this unprecedented will, to our Führer, Adolf Hitler - a three-fold ‘Sieg Heil!’”
In April 2000 Alex Steiner posted a three-part essay, The case of Martin Heidegger, philosopher and Nazi. In it he examines the politics of Heidegger and Arendt’s relationship to him. The following is extracted from that essay:
“It is in Nietzsche that the counter-enlightenment finds its real voice. And it is to this tradition that we should look in situating the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. Heidegger himself in fact recognised Nietzsche quite correctly as a kindred spirit. But, whereas Nietzsche saw himself as the prophet announcing the coming of nihilism, Heidegger sees himself as the biographer of a mature nihilism.
“As part of their public relations campaign Heidegger and his apologists were particularly keen to enlist the testimony of German Jewish philosophers, who had themselves suffered under the Nazis. To this end the well-known philosopher and German émigré, Hanna Arendt, was solicited to write an essay for an anthology honouring Heidegger on the occasion of his 80th birthday. Arendt’s essay, ‘Heidegger at 80’, contains the following cryptic allusion to Heidegger’s political activities:
“‘Now we all know that Heidegger, too, once succumbed to the temptation to change his “residence” and to get involved in the world of human affairs. As to the world, he was served somewhat worse than Plato because the tyrant and his victims were not located beyond the sea, but in his own country … As to Heidegger himself, I believe that the matter stands differently. He was still young enough to learn from the shock of the collision, which after 10 short hectic months 37 years ago drove him back to his residence, and to settle in his thinking what he had experienced ...’
“According to the legal brief presented by Arendt, Heidegger’s unfortunate lapse was due neither to the circumstances in which he lived nor to his character, and certainly has no echo in his ideas. The fact that Heidegger became a Nazi, which she euphemistically describes as having ‘succumbed to the temptation to change his “residence” and to get involved in the world of human affairs’, can be ascribed solely to the occupational hazard of being a philosopher. And if other philosophers did not follow in these footsteps, that can be explained by the fact that they did not take thinking as seriously as Heidegger. They were not prepared to ‘accept this wondering as their abode’.
“Arendt’s piece is notable for its sheer effrontery. She manages to make Heidegger into the victim who fell prey to the greatness of his thought … She returns to the theme of Heidegger’s primal innocence and political naiveté, writing that ‘... the point of the matter is that Heidegger, like so many other German intellectuals, Nazis and anti-Nazis, of his generation never read Mein Kampf’.
“Actually, there is good evidence to suppose that Heidegger not only did read Hitler’s opus, Mein Kampf, but approved of it. Tom Rockmore has convincingly argued that, in his speech assuming the rectorate of Freiburg, Heidegger’s ‘multiple allusions to battle are also intended as a clear allusion to Hitler’s notorious view of the struggle for the realisation of the destiny of the German people formulated in Mein Kampf’.
“At a later point in her note, Arendt seeks to turn the tables on Heidegger’s critics by trotting out the legend, manufactured by Heidegger himself, of his redemptive behaviour following his ‘error’: ‘Heidegger himself corrected his own “error” more quickly and more radically than many of those who later sat in judgment over him - he took considerably greater risks than were usual in German literary and university life during that period.’
“Even in 1971, Hannah Arendt certainly knew better, or should have known better, than the tale she relates in this embarrassing apologia. She certainly knew, for instance, of Heidegger’s 1953 republication of his essay discussing the ‘inner truth of National Socialism’. She was also aware, through her friendship with Karl Jaspers, of the deplorable behaviour Heidegger exhibited toward Jaspers and his Jewish wife. (Heidegger broke off all personal relations with Jaspers and his wife shortly after he became rector.)
“It was only after the war that Heidegger tried to repair their personal relationship. Despite an intermittent exchange of letters, the two philosophers could never repair their personal relationship as a result of Heidegger’s refusal to recant his support of Nazism.”
We are bound to conclude that Arendt defended Heidegger, the Nazi, because she remained a Zionist despite criticisms and identified those racist, elitist elements in Heidegger’s philosophy that chimed with Zionism itself: the contempt for the Untermensch Jews in Germany 1930 and Palestinians today. And fear of revolution made it imperative for these ultra-reactionary ideologies to reject Marxism.
Stop having kids
Alan Johnstone and Jim Cook make some very good points about the role of education of women in reducing population growth (Letters, September 26).
My views on population growth come from bitter personal experience. I have a close relative who has seven children. His ex-wife has five children, of whom the eldest three are common to both. The eldest of these three has been to prison for being in a car with a bag of heroin in the boot. She now has three children, all by different fathers. All three children are now in care. The third eldest has also been to prison - not for drug offences, but for assault whilst under the influence of drink and drugs. My 85-year-old mom and I have had to pick up the pieces from these two dysfunctional adults. It has made our life a misery.
Thirty-two years ago, their mother had a choice - either continue working in a tandoori chicken factory or have a baby, so she had a baby followed by four more. For uneducated women from poor families, having babies is a conscious career choice, because they mistakenly think that is all women are designed for. As Jim Cook points out, I want the poor to have fewer children. A tax-free grant of £500 to those willing to be sterilised, together with the abolition of child benefits, would go a long way in encouraging the poor to have fewer children. This policy would have prevented the famous case of the man with 16 children who burnt his house down so he could be a hero. Unfortunately, it all went wrong and he ended up in prison.
Under communism, as Trotsky pointed out, the average intelligence would be of an Aristotle, a Marx or a Freud. The problem today is that only 50% of school and college leavers go on to university. With the advent of robotics, artificial intelligence and 3D printing, Marxists must think long and hard about what we do for the 50% who don’t go on to university. This 50% has been completely forgotten by successive governments, who have only been interested in the other 50% who do go to university. We must break down the division between mental and manual labour.
As Alan and Jim point out, education is the key here. And so are equal rights and fulfilling employment.
Mike Macnair’s article in last week’s paper was a valuable corrective to some of the nonsense that is currently doing the rounds on the use of courts and the law in general as weapons to further left politics (‘Judges, politics and democracy’, September 26).
Most people claiming to be Marxists do appear to understand, at least verbally, that the legal system and the state in general are instruments of class rule and are never neutral between the working class and the bourgeoisie. The Supreme Court’s ruling on Johnson’s prorogation of parliament has to be seen in that context. However, perhaps just as important are the wider attitudes within the labour movement, which underpin some of the celebration that Mike refers to in his account.
Not only does this ‘jubilation’ stem from the false idea of the potential neutrality of the judiciary, but it also indicates that many left reformists do not see politics in terms of the conscious and active engagement of the masses in society. Instead, for them, politics is a series of manoeuvres to wrest concessions from capitalism. We cannot rely on the working class, so we must appeal to elements of the status quo to act on our behalf.
However, the guiding principle for Marxists is the self-activity and political agency of the working class: to coin a phrase, ‘No trust have we in prince, peer … or Supreme Court. Our own right hands the chains must sunder …’
Please, no more!
Please, please, please, can we have no more completely pointless ‘reading appreciation’ or other articles from Rex Dunn?
He has a dreadful written style - rambling, meandering, pointless, peppered with trite observations (with exclamations), and turgid, repetitive, mechanical reciting of his personal and ‘political’ catechisms. You would imagine it could be a transcript from a psychotherapy session, where he is invited to speak on any subject he likes for 50 minutes without any intervention from the suffering therapist, on the basis that somewhere in the superficial rambling there may be something of use or interest. Unfortunately there never is.
Apart from reciting the need to study “Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky”, he doesn’t appear to have read (or understood) any of them and he seems incapable of developing any real analysis or even argument in any of his articles. He just regurgitates whole sections of what he thinks he has read and with trite comments which add nothing.
Although I would not necessarily agree with every single point in every other article carried in the Weekly Worker, they are of a consistently higher standard and quality than Dunn’s and always worth a careful read and thinking about.
In his ‘review’ of Raquel Varela’s A people’s history of the Portuguese Revolution, Dunn seems to think that the only thing missing and preventing the revolution going on to establish full communism was a revolutionary party (‘Direct vs representative democracy’, September 12). There are tiresome mechanical references to the “Stalinist” Portuguese Communist Party and infantile repeated assertions that the PCP “betrayed” the revolution.
First, why on earth would a Communist Party constantly seek to “betray” or undermine a genuine revolutionary process? Second, is not Dunn aware of the whole ‘socialism in one country’ debate and also the position of the Weekly Worker that the socialist revolution in Europe will not only need to be, but is more likely to be, continent-wide? Yes, an ‘All-Portugal Congress of Soviets’ would sound great, but in international isolation?
Third, is Dunn not aware that Mike Macnair has recently had a series of major, in-depth articles discussing and evaluating from many different angles and perspectives the full range of strategies and tactics potentially open to revolutionary socialists and revolutionary parties? These might have given him some insight as to the specific tactics and positions taken by the PCP in 1974-75, precisely to avoid the risk of a full-blown, counterrevolutionary and fascistic backlash.
The very title of Dunn’s article, ‘Direct vs representative democracy’, shows his basic ignorance of Marxism. It’s not the form of democracy which matters so much: it is in whose interests it is exercised - more specifically in the interests of which class. The two forms are not polar opposites - most socialists would advocate a combination of direct and representative democracy within socialist society and a wide range of mechanisms and institutions to reflect pluralism and diversity, and the need to engage all sections in the running of society.
Dunn notes that “the Russian Revolution had a revolutionary party in waiting”. A revolutionary party “in waiting”!! What? Just standing around on street corners, waiting for something to happen?! Or thinking about writing about a book they have just read?
Socialist revolutionary theory and practice is a complicated, challenging and serious business and the Weekly Worker makes a massive contribution to its development. But Dunn’s articles are an embarrassment, so, please, no more!