Friday, August 03, 2007
"Appeasement" posted by Richard SeymourThe recent tussle between Cohen and Hari, a "cage match" according to Blood & Treasure who also affectionately refers to Hari as a "feisty young baboon", has driven the so-called "pro-war left" into serious outrage. The proximate cause of this furore is the censoring of David T's article for HP Sauce (which is at any rate published elsewhere, and is available as a Google cache). The more fundamental - or root - cause is Hari's apostasy. He has capitulated to a few unspeakable realities about American power, and is now decidedly out of the gang. That controversy is boring and stupid, as are most of its participants. However, there was an item in Hari's article which criticised, without really undermining, the 'appeasement' charge deployed by the nemeses of Islamofascototalitarianism in their various polemics against the rest of humanity, collectively understood as The Root Cause Brigade. Hari concedes a silly claim to Cohen, namely that there are people in this world who think that the single root cause of "jihadism" is the Israel-Palestine conflict, and adds:
However, Cohen then extends this argument - in a bizarre leap - to claim that jihadism has no root causes at all, and that anybody who suggests it does is "appeasing fascists".
"I am very sceptical," he says, "of people who think irrational movements have rational causes." So if you talk, as virtually all serious scholars of jihadism do, about the role the US played in smelting jihadism through supporting torture in Egypt and a Wahabbi clerical establishment in Saudi Arabia, you are in Cohen's eyes an apologist. Jihadism is in his account a spontaneous theological psychosis sprouting in the void, with social and economic factors playing no role at all. Its irrationality means it cannot be explained or discussed; it can only be defeated.
If this were true, we would live a world bifurcated into The Rational, which has rational explanations, and The Irrational, which has irrational explanations, and never the twain shall meet. It's not hard, however, to think of obvious examples where we rationally explain the irrational all the time. We know that paranoid scizophrenia - the height of irrationality - can be caused by using certain drugs, for example. The obvious example from political history is Nazism. There is a near-total consensus among historians that the Versailles Treaty helped to create the trough of national humiliation and greivance in which the fungus of Nazism could grow. Yet - incredibly - Cohen rubbishes this view as appeasers' logic. J.M. Keynes, the great economist who first identified the disastrous effects of Versailles, merely, he writes, "provided a 'root cause' to justify appeasement".
Anyone who examines the arguments about Political Islam from Hitchens, Amis, Cohen, Berman and others of that genus will encounter this facile psychologism, but Hari hasn't really got to the point. The term 'appeasement' was a misleading coinage from the start, designed to paper over what was in fact the active support and collusion of the British ruling class with a German regime it admired. It was not pacifism, and it was not them being chickenshit, and it was not an acknowledgment of the iniquities of the Versailles Treaty. It was not necessary to choose between imperialism and fascism, because there was no essential antagonism between them. The war that eventually broke out was a continuation of a quarrel within capitalism, with regional powers eventually worried about Germany becoming the regional hegemon. The British ruling class was not morally or otherwise opposed to German expansion in the East. It's "free hand in the East" policy was not only to prevent the Hitler regime from imploding. It was a reflection of the fact that the other colonial powers had long used Eastern Europe as a semi-colony, particularly shifting investment to it after the Russian Revolution. France and Germany competed for control of that region, particularly its extractive industries, while Britain played a 'balance of power' game, throwing its weight against whichever power threatened to dominate. The "free hand" policy, although it aggravated the Americans, who were also anxious for access to markets in South Eastern Europe, continued right up until 15th March 1939. They even tried to sic the Nazis onto the Soviet Union. Chamberlain's hope after Munich was that the Nazis would attack Russia and destroy a "communist" state that was still pathologically feared and hated by British capital. They did not want a war with Germany that, it was feared, would "Bolshevise" Europe and eliminate a vital "bulwark" against communism. In the Winter of 1939-40, there was a last ditch effort by the Tories to breathe life into the "free hand" policy and launch an anti-Bolshevik crusade under the guise of "assistance" to Finland. This is what is called "appeasement".
It would be morally repugnant, and intellectually vacant, to conflate the pro-Nazi actions and attitudes of Britain's ruling elite with, say, the antiwar feeling of many Britons until at least 1938, the pacifist opposition to war after that, or even the sad spectacle of supporters of Stalin denouncing the war as imperialist before deciding it was a war for democracy once the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was crushed under the iron heels of Nazi invaders. Yet this is what the term "appeasement" allows people to do. And in its current use, the label is generally only applied to anti-imperialists, socialists, antiwar liberals, pacifists, and anyone who doesn't hold spectacular delusions about the meliorative propensities of American daisy-cutters and cluster bombs. The emotionally potent oversimplification that "jihadis" are "fascists" usually follows, which claim makes the American state into a global manager and fundraiser for fascism. Yet, the label is not applied to those who make deals with "jihadist" groups to attack Iran, for example. Perhaps it would seem a mild term for it. It doesn't quite capture the deep embrace between American capitalism and the Saudi tyranny either. It would seem an unwarranted circumlocution to describe the use of takfiri groups to subvert Lebanese democracy as "appeasement". Were the American occupiers really "appeasing" the Badr Corps by incorporating them into the post-Ba'ath repressive apparatus? Was the use of "jihadis" in Afghanistan and Bosnia a capitulation? We need not retrace the widespread imposition of genuinely fascistic and often genocidal regimes by the United States government.
The term "appeasement" is thus an absurdity, especially as an insult coming from these collaborators and apologists (we might call their embrace of fascism the pinko-brown alliance). Precisely as those who are obsessed with renovating the old 'totalitarianism' thesis never spend much time examining Hannah Arendt's intuition about its origins in imperialism, those who swish the "appeasement" stick at their enemies rarely show any sign of understanding its history and implications. Since most of these people are intellectuals, in the strictly sociological sense, they are used to relying on certain terminological stop-gaps to contain and deter a flood of information that they are incapable of handling. But now the dyke is busting, the cracks spread ever wider, and the deluge is afoot. They frantically scrabble for new bungs and some verbal sealant - fascism, totalitarianism, appeasement, brown far right, treason, torture can be a necessity, it's all the fault of religion, liberal appeaseniks, Dhimmis, Islam Islam Islam - but the supply will shortly be exhausted. This post was a dam-busting exercise, cheps. I am doing my part in the war against fascism.