Setting the Scene
This letter concerns the “introduction” to the text Auschwitz or the Great Alibi by Mitchell Abidor, published on the Marxists Internet Archive (MIA) in conjunction with the article itself. The “introduction”, whose placement is an unprecedented occurrence on the MIA, is a clear attempt at a distortion of the arguments made by the International Communist Party (ICP). We, after translating and publishing a reply to criticisms like these by the original author of the text, Martin Axelrad of the French section of the ICP, contacted Andy Blunden, MIA secretary, to have it stricken from the text. The best that they did was to remove it from Bordiga’s section of the archive, but the “introduction” remains fixed to the body of the text (but alas, witness the URL: https://www.marxists.org/subject/jewish/bordiga/auschwitz.htm). Obviously, there is some sort of ideological motive behind this, because no other document has an attached assassination attempt such as this. The MIA is relying on the naivety of readers who will read this “introduction” and have their views on the article coloured by this opportunism.
Contortions of Facts
With comic irony Axelrad writes “[a]t first we think that our accusers have not read this article” in his reply to critics of The Great Alibi. Axelrad:
“you can see why even the people who have read it are blending those who deny the reality of Nazi horrors with us who seek to explain them and at the same time show the co-responsibility of ‘democratic’ states.” (Auschwitz or the Great Alibi: What we deny and what we affirm)
The most egregious aspect of Abidor’s “introduction” is that it is itself the same subject that The Great Alibi is critiquing. Little wonder that there’s a vested interest in trying to paint The Great Alibi as Holocaust denial. Overtly the “introduction” takes issue with trying to provide a material reason for ideological beliefs. Mundane enough to any philistine, and surely no one would take issue with such an approach to any other phenomenon in the material world. But with the Holocaust, this approach is verboten. It is a reaffirmation of the fact that it is used, and continues to be used, as a defence of the bourgeois democratic order. The “introduction” opens with:
“If all there was to Bordiga’s ‘Auschwitz, or the Great Alibi’ was its mechanistic reduction of Marxism, its denial of human agency in the most horrific of acts, its diminution of the person to a mere conduit for class interests, ‘Auschwitz, or the Great Alibi’ would be merely another betrayal of the richness of Marx’s thought.”
A fact that one could correctly see as being wrong by reading the text itself, on its own terms. Abidor’s comment about a mechanistic reduction of Marxism is just a cover for his own idealistic and moralistic outlook. Abidor must recoil in horror at such a moral perversion that seeks
“to demolish in this way the mythology that presents Nazism, and fascism in general, as a manifestation of the Devil that all men of good will must fight. It is to explain fascism (racist or not like its Italian prototype) and at the same time to explain that the real front of social and political struggles does not pass between democrats and fascists, but opposes the forces of proletarian revolution to those of bourgeois conservation. That is what we are actually reproached by both the naive bourgeois democrats and the subtle Trotskyist tacticians who seek to rely on them. Against one and the other, let us recall in a few points what we deny and what we affirm.” (Auschwitz or the Great Alibi: What we deny and what we affirm)
The Holocaust didn’t happen due to the whims of individuals, to say so would be to trample Marxism into the mud. Abidor isn’t the first, nor will he be the last, to join in the chorus of those who support the ideology of the bourgeois democratic regimes. Axelrad quoted above deals with them further, but it’s clear that the much less subtle descendants of the Trotskyist tacticians and their fancy for supporting various bourgeois factions certainly have a horse in this race. From the original text, which Axelrad repeats above because no one seems to read it:
“In 1844 Marx already attacked bourgeois economists for considering cupidity innate instead of explaining it, and showed why the greedy were forced to be greedy. […] We no longer have to explain the ‘destructive nihilism’ of the Nazis, but rather why the destruction was in part concentrated on the Jews. On this point as well Nazis and anti-fascists are in agreement: it was racism, the hatred of Jews, a ‘passion’, free and ferocious, that caused the death of the Jews. But we Marxists know that there are no free social passions, that nothing is more determined than these great movements of collective hatred. We will see that the study of the anti-Semitism of the imperialist era only illustrates this truth.” (Auschwitz or the Great Alibi)
Abidor continues in his “introduction”:
“The author places Nazis and anti-fascists on the same level, dismissing both for blaming ‘hatred of the Jews’ as the cause for the Holocaust.”
Here we have Abidor coming out in his full support of the good bourgeoisie against the bad bourgeoisie. The subject of anti-fascism has been covered many times already within the texts and documents of the ICP, and it isn’t just simply a case of equating it to fascism (how absurd). To quote from a text that we translated:
“An excellent communist […] used to say that ‘the worst product of fascism was anti-fascism’. This jest is completely incomprehensible to those supporters of a reformist, pacifist and progressive democracy who live continuously in their insipid dreams despite all the blows that capitalist reality gives them. Yet it is profound and true, and its meaning is not difficult to decipher for anyone who has any understanding of Marxism. It means in short: the importance of fascism has historically been very limited; but that of anti-fascism has been much more enduring, and more pernicious from the point of view of the interests of the revolutionary proletariat and communism. Anyone who […] is not capable of understanding this has never understood anything not only of revolutionary Marxism, but even, more modestly, of his time.” (The Communist Party of Italy in the Face of the Fascist Offensive (1921-1924) – Part I)
But from one alibi to the next, Abidor stumbles about trying to cast the article as Holocaust denial through increasingly backdoor means.
“Their choice as victims was due both to their place in capitalist society and their ease of ‘identification.’ Anti-Semitism is thus nothing but a side issue, one incidental to the discussion. After all, they weren’t killed ‘because they were Jews, but because they were ejected from the production process.’ Two decades of Hitlerite anti-Semitic rants meant nothing. ‘Der Sturmer’ meant nothing. Kristallnacht meant nothing. All we had was capitalism looking for a way out of a crisis.”
Even though the article itself says otherwise. It says plainly that Jews were targeted because they were Jews. Anti-semitism doesn’t exist in a vacuum, nor does any form of racism:
“It is not by chance that we say ‘anti-Semitism of the imperialist era’, for if the idealists of all stripes, from Nazis to ‘Jewish’ theoreticians consider that the hatred of the Jew is the same in all times and places, we know that this is not so.” (Auschwitz or the Great Alibi)
One needs only recall the image of the “international Jew”, of “Jewish finance capital”, inventions of modern the bourgeois era, and yes, even the “rootless cosmopolitan” of Stalinism. “The anti-Semitism of the current period is totally different from that of the feudal period”. Further the text clearly points out a difference in “the anti-Semitism indigenous to Central Europe”, which was a “was more complex […] a horrible mix of feudal and petit bourgeois anti-Semitism”. Hitler for Abidor was the devil, and the Jews are an eternal and divine category of special people of their own, devoid of any real-world connections, existing solely in a state above the world.
The placing of Jewish people within the context of capitalism is of course nothing new. It has been written about by Marx and by Zionists alike. To quote extensively Theodor Herzl’s The Jewish State on what he believed to be the roots of anti-semitism in capitalism:
“We shall not again touch on those causes which are a result of temperament, prejudice and narrow views, but shall here restrict ourselves to political and economical causes alone. Modern Anti-Semitism is not to be confounded with the religious persecution of the Jews of former times. It does occasionally take a religious bias in some countries, but the main current of the aggressive movement has now changed. In the principal countries where Anti-Semitism prevails, it does so as a result of the emancipation of the Jews. When civilized nations awoke to the inhumanity of discriminatory legislation and enfranchised us, our enfranchisement came too late. It was no longer possible to remove our disabilities in our old homes. For we had, curiously enough, developed while in the Ghetto into a bourgeois people, and we stepped out of it only to enter into fierce competition with the middle classes. Hence, our emancipation set us suddenly within this middle-class circle, where we have a double pressure to sustain, from within and from without. The Christian bourgeoisie would not be unwilling to cast us as a sacrifice to Socialism, though that would not greatly improve matters.
At the same time, the equal rights of Jews before the law cannot be withdrawn where they have once been conceded. Not only because their withdrawal would be opposed to the spirit of our age, but also because it would immediately drive all Jews, rich and poor alike, into the ranks of subversive parties. Nothing effectual can really be done to our injury. In olden days our jewels were seized. How is our movable property to be got hold of now? It consists of printed papers which are locked up somewhere or other in the world, perhaps in the coffers of Christians. It is, of course, possible to get at shares and debentures in railways, banks and industrial undertakings of all descriptions by taxation, and where the progressive income-tax is in force all our movable property can eventually be laid hold of. But all these efforts cannot be directed against Jews alone, and wherever they might nevertheless be made, severe economic crises would be their immediate consequences, which would be by no means confined to the Jews who would be the first affected. The very impossibility of getting at the Jews nourishes and embitters hatred of them. Anti-Semitism increases day by day and hour by hour among the nations; indeed, it is bound to increase, because the causes of its growth continue to exist and cannot be removed. Its remote cause is our loss of the power of assimilation during the Middle Ages; its immediate cause is our excessive production of mediocre intellects, who cannot find an outlet downwards or upwards — that is to say, no wholesome outlet in either direction. When we sink, we become a revolutionary proletariat, the subordinate officers of all revolutionary parties; and at the same time, when we rise, there rises also our terrible power of the purse.”
And this is written in 1896!
But this fact that anti-semitism, modern anti-semitism, has root causes in capitalism, and that the extremely short article in question here discusses, appears lost to Abidor. He makes every attempt at shifting the blame from world capitalism. Here is another example of the way he distorts the meaning of the text, and denies certain historical facts.
“From there the author shifts to placing a part of the blame for the death of millions on the West, which didn’t take in the Jews, and his tone makes it clear that it is the greater part of the blame. Stating that ‘most remained [in Germany], despite themselves and despite the Nazis,’ the Reich becomes just an ancillary figure in the drama. Not only did they want to send the Jews elsewhere and not be forced to kill them, it was the West that refused to save them. In one of ‘The Great Alibi’s’ most outrageous enormities, it is the SS that ‘believed in Western ideals.’ In pseudo-Bordiga’s treatment of the negotiations between Joel Brand and Eichmann for the trading of Jews for trucks, it is Eichman and the Germans who are allowed to appear concerned about the Jews, even putting down a ‘deposit’ of Jews in Switzerland preparatory to the final swap.”
Not only does the fact of the existence of the event contradict the statement “From there the author shifts to placing a part of the blame for the death of millions on the West”, but it rests upon moralistic hand wringing and the turning of the phrase “believed in Western ideals” to impart a meaning other than the one intended. The SS believed in the Western ideals, but it turned out that the West itself didn’t (if the intended murder of millions of Jews were so obvious from the “Two decades of Hitlerite anti-Semitic rants” then why isn’t some of the blame pinned on the West?).
“One can almost hear Himmler sighing sadly through pseudo-Bordiga’s prose. And of course, in the Bordigist universe, it was ‘capitalism’ that killed them, not the specific form, German Nazism”
The irony here, noted well by Axelrad and the ICP, is that this “introduction” is the very same apologia for capitalism that they are criticising. Abidor, if it needs to be spelt out, is saying that the Holocaust was the product of only German Nazism rather than of capital in general. Himmler may sigh sadly at the thought that his ideas were rooted within the context and material reality of his time, and not the product of a group of divinely gifted supermen, an idea that Abidor mimics and reaffirms with every possible opportunity. While Himmler sighs, the democratic order of the bourgeoisie gleefully use the Holocaust as a prop to their own regime and a hammer to beat down opponents. One needs only to think of recent uses of the word fascist in political circles, and the need to support one faction of the bourgeoisie over another. We can say this without fear of being dated. It will forever be a part of bourgeois discourse.
Abidor is careful never to go so far as to say that the text is Holocaust denial (who can when the text agrees that millions of Jews were murdered?); he nonetheless is equating any attempt at placing the Holocaust on any historical footing, rooted within the capitalist mode of production, as Holocaust denial when he writes that “Denial of the very existence of the Shoah flows naturally from all of this”.
In accordance with the above explications, we hereby ask the Marxists Internet Archive to remove Mitchell Abidor’s inaccurate, misleading and defamatory “introduction” from the body of text of The Great Alibi.
We will close this letter with Martin Axelrad:
“What strikes above all is the despicable hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie and its lackeys, who would like to make it appear that racism and anti-Semitism are in themselves responsible for the suffering and massacres, and in particular for the deaths of 6 million Jews in the last war. The article we reproduce exposes the real roots of the extermination of Jews, roots that should not be sought in the realm of ideas, but in the functioning of the capitalist economy. And it also shows that while the German state has been the executioner of the Jews, all bourgeois states are co-responsible for their deaths, on which they now shed crocodile tears.”