Former members of La Banquise respond to allegations of Holocaust denial, and criticise their previous response to such allegations.
"(..) the SI should not be judged according to the superficially scandalous aspects of certain manifestations through which it makes its appearance, but according to its essentially scandalous central truth."
"Unfortunately for us, we were right."
Faced with the prosecutor Pinard, Flaubert pleaded for the morality of Madame Bovary. Such a role would be less credible for us.1
"There can never be an innocent Lettrist", declared the Lettrist International around 1950 when one of its members was accused of theft. Just as it is odious to be treated as guilty, so it is absurd to claim to be innocent after having published an article entitled "For a World Without Innocence".
Armand Robin, the author of La Fausse Parole ( False Speech) insisted that his name should be added to every blacklist.
No point in looking for excuses. Denying is confessing.
For nearly thirty years, we had done various things, and put forward some ideas. Our actions defined what we were.
We were suddenly denounced for not being what we did. According to our more lenient critics, we carelessly supported gas chamber revisionism. Others, whether madpersons or liars, went further: for them, we are shamefaced Holocaust negationists and, to put it clearly, more or less fascists.
Are we to explain that we are not what others claim we are ? Negative proof is nonsense.
We can do nothing for those lost sheep who choose to judge the thousands of pages we have published by a mere fifty lines photocopied for their benefit.
We have nothing to say to the researchers and on-lookers who are only interested in the "ultra-left" if it has links with some ultra-right. How about a history of the German communist left centred around those of its members who turned national-bolshevik ? This is as relevant as reading Nerval through a psychiatric looking glass, re-interpreting Marx through his love affair with his maid, or studying anarchism solely in terms of the provocateurs infiltrated into libertarian groups.
As for those who had been familiar with our writings and activities, some of them for twenty or thirty years, and who suddenly started shaking in their boots at the sight of a few selected quotes, such an attitude disqualifies them at all levels, including the intellectual level.
Slander has had the success it intended: a media one. But no sooner has the denouncer uttered his words that they are swept away by others. One day everybody shall have fifteen minutes of infame. The curtain comes down. End of show trial.
The derisory character of the anti ultra-left campaign, its meagre connection with reality, is shown in the way we were cast in the role of the villain in a couple of novels, and then a film. Libel turns into fiction - a sure sign that is has reached its terminal phase.
A scandal cannot be refuted. The press and publishing world do not make opinion, they reflect it, speaking only about what is already related to the reader, and has been socially filtered.
When the media encounter something unknown (in this case, La Banquise), they can influence the reader but, as such an article does not have the least relation to the reader's life, how deep is this influence ? how real ? La Banquise becomes about as important as the derailment of a train in China: like a hundred and fifty dead Chinese, it gets a couple of columns and thirty seconds' attention.
In 1984, following the assassination of Gérard Lébovici, French readers, knowing nothing about the SI, opened their newspapers to learn that one Guy Debord was reported as having links with "international terrorism". Before forgetting it all, readers merely concluded what they already thought: extremists are decidedly unpalatable.
If communist ideas were honestly portrayed in the New York Times, their mere appearance there would rob them of their meaning. Could a New York Times page hostile to these ideas be any more relevant?
A CP supporter skimming through Mattick or Socialisme ou Barbarie in the fifties would have been indignant:" They have to be paid by the CIA to write this stuff!" And a gutter press reader would have exclaimed: "I don't know what the big idea is, but at least they're having a go at the Russians!"
Our texts of 1970, 1979, 1983 or 2000 can only be understood by their readers, not by those who now study them in search of our "revisionism", and who equate history with criminology, and politics with denunciation. When we write volumes on revolution, the average left-winger ignores them. Fair enough. Now if he is shown five lines of ours about Auschwitz, he might be persuaded we are a little bit "over the top". He is wrong on both counts.
It is only possible to bring discredit on yourself in the eyes of those for whom and with whom you exist. Public opinion regards any individual or groups who have radical pretensions as dreamers, imbeciles or trouble-makers. It is as difficult for the average reader of Le Monde or the Guardian to understand that La Banquise never flirted with fascism, as to accept the magazine's historical vision. The non-existence of the flirtation arises precisely from the validity of the vision. There is no other "proof".
Because we are revolutionaries, we have as little in common with fascism as with stalinism. The problem (which won't be overcome for some time) is that this phrase is virtually bereft of meaning for those who see no content in the word "revolution". It would be useless to expect people who have no time for our ideas in general to understand us upon this particular point - we never supported gas chamber negationist Faurisson - especially when the denunciation takes a challenge of antifascism as blatant evidence of complicity with fascism: anti-anti-fascism equals pro-fascism ! As plain as the glass in Lenin's mausoleum.
In other areas, perhaps, the all too blinding logic of this syllogism would unleash some sort of critical reflex amongst the ranks of the left, i.e. that simple minimal dissent which is supposed to differentiate left from right, and, needless to say, left from extreme-right. But this time, the attack was tantamount to a democratic refutation of revolutionary theory, via what current wisdom, now, in France and just about nowhere else, portrays as the conflict of the turn of the century: the confrontation between negationism and anti-negationism.2
We are to blame. Not for what we have been accused of, but for why we have been accused. The prosecutors have picked on our strong point, not on our weaknesses, simplifications or provocations. Good or bad taste are not in question here. "All things considered, the sense of provocation is still the most appreciable aspect of the matter. A truth will always take hold if it is expressed in an outrageous way." (Breton,Conference, 17th November, 1922) The propensity of a society to be shocked by an act or an isolated remark goes with its toleration and euphemization of its own inhumanity.
"If my theatre stinks, it's because other plays smell so good."
(J.Genet, L'Etrange mot d', 1967)
Will social criticism ever learn to write with caution?
We are to blame for thinking that nazism is condensed capitalism, and could only have been avoided by revolution; for thinking that mankind can only escape present and future bloody dictatorships by overthrowing capitalist society.
Is it just a matter of vocabulary? Surely not. Suppose, in order to avoid using the word capitalist, we had said: the existing society, the XXth century, the modern world... produced Auschwitz, the inquisition would have unfolded just the same. What is unacceptable is to trace the nazi horror to its source: the world (dis)order based on capitalism. Too many people have a vested interest in explaining nazism in terms of hatred, rejection of otherness, the politics of exclusion, anti-semitism -- in short by the nazis. Consequently, in France, today, they want Le Pen's National Front to be fought not by attacking the society which produces it, but by defending this very society against it, and logically end up supporting the left, the centre, and any moderate politician as long as he opposes the extreme-right.
Those who have turned "capitalism" into an empty advertising catch phrase are the same who treat "revolution" as a slogan. What distinguishes us from those who denounce us is that at the end of the day they think this society can't be all that bad. They believe that there's "more freedom" today than in 1950, that the riot police are "a lesser evil" than the troops at Peterloo or the Pinkerton gangs, and that young proles are "better off" in an inner-city school than down a mine or on the street. This is exacty where our crime lies: we refuse to compare.
"The concentration camps are the hell of a world whose heaven is the supermarket." (La Banquise, n.1, 1983) Clearly for us there exists neither heaven nor hell. A horrible reality created its infernal representation. The horrors of modern consumerism produce their heavenly images. In both cases, the expression used by La Banquise dealt with images and did not compare the realities upon which either is based, far less deny their existence.
"The "normal" regime of exploitation does not have a different nature from that of the camps. The camp is simply a clear picture of the somewhat veiled hell where so many people live around the world." (Robert Antelme, Pauvre-Prol‚taire-D‚port‚, 1948) Of course the final solution is not specifically referred to in this statement, as Antelme is talking about concentration camps rather than extermination camps. But who would accuse Antelme of wanting to minimise the atrocity of the camps ? (He was no ultra-lefist, rather a radical humanist, who joined the French CP in 1946 and was expelled four years later.) Our only fault is to see extermination as the culmination of concentration.
The concentration camps are the hell of a world whose heaven is the supermarket. Why is this phrase unacceptable? Why does the leftist, forgetting everything we've just said, forgetting even Antelme whom he may have read, understand this as an odious comparison between a gas chamber and people queuing at Tesco's ? Because, although he does not love supermarkets, he sees no horror in them. Just as he would like a democratic society with reduced wage differentials, he dreams of a consumer friendly shopping centre, with bicyle lanes, linking together the local community, displaying more educational CD-Roms than Barbie dolls, selling organic food and "fair" priced Bolivian coffee. In other words, commodity with a human face. For those who have no critique of the supermarket as a concentration of market relations and a place of overall deprivation, La Banquise's turn of phrase sounds weirdly paradoxical, even abominable.
For us, just as much as for our accusers, it is how we view the supermarket (and society) which determines how we view the camps, not the other way round. So it would be a hopeless task to try and disarm our prosecutors by defending our position on Auschwitz when what matters is to attack them on the supermarket question. The central issue has never been about an analysis of nazism or of genocide, rather a question of how we relate to this society here and now. Basically, nothing has changed since a republican policeman shouted at one of us in 1968: "With your bullshit, you want to lead us to fascism !" Thirty years later, spurred on by Auschwitz or not, it's the same story.
The accusations against us were based on scandal. But day after day, reality proves to be scandalous, and even caricatures itself. It is economy, not La Banquise, which had plans for a supermarket at Oswiecim. Scandal is what suddenly shocks a world which can't stand its own reflection in the mirror. The commodity is the great desecrator. So said a manifesto which had its 150th anniversary celebrated in 1998.
Our civilization is too rich in horrors to allow itself the intellectual or moral right to establish a hierarchy of its own crimes by deciding which ones the law authorizes and which it represses. This world is not explained by extremes but by the ordinary. The Gulag was not the key to the USSR nor were the extermination camps the key to Hitlerism. Crises, wars and mass slaughter express the paroxysm of society, but do not explain the logic which produces them. However, planned mass murder is what democracy essentially reproaches nazism with -- while revisionists maintain it was not planned. What more is there to say about this debate in the year 2000 than in 1980 or 1983? The crime we are in revolt against is the nature and continuation of this society, as this basic crime contains all others.
In the 70's, "new philosophers" in France and Soljenitsyn's admirers replaced Auschwitz with the Gulag archipelago. Twenty or thirty years later, some leftwingers launch a mini-war against a revolutionary critique which they pretend to see as a harbinger of some neo-nazi threat. The democratic injunction remains unaltered: If you do not recognize totalitarianism as the Number One enemy, then you are an accessory to the crime. Those who persist in talking about capitalism when everyone is meant to be worrying about the "real" pressing issues (dictatorship, domination, racism, intolerance) are unaccceptable and are to be hunted down.
This little campaign at least had the merit of showing that everything is not "recuperable" and that the society of the spectacle has problems digesting critiques which are a little radical. Naturally, if any individual or group with revolutionary pretensions is dragged before the public eye, they would want to be so dragged because of what they really are. But the fabrication of monsters is not just a product of the late XXth century. Thiers did not massacre the insurgents of 1871 for their communal democratic programme, but as murderers and arsonists. The French Third Republic did not imprison anarchists for their individualist or collectivist beliefs, but simply as throwers of bombs. It took years before the press stopped revealing Marx as an agent of Bismark and Lenin as a German spy. La Banquise tried to explain how there are no such things as monsters: it would be ridiculous to attempt to show that we weren't such monsters by proving we're not gas chamber negationists.
Only Stalinism turned slander into a habit for some, an obsession for many. Several decades later, suburban Vichinskys can still make a nuisance of themselves, because they combine common sense and morality, with the virtuous aplomb of those who only support good causes. Living in a popular neighbourhood, they never forget to show what perfect credentials they have, with parents either manual workers or in the Resistance. They have a family, they work, and if they write, it's certainly not pornographic novels. They also have an audience, and book after book reassure it. They lunch with a union leader and then leave him to march with the Trots. Their Stalinist past was nothing but a long dissidence. They travelled through Maoland with the most critical eye. They embody the rebellious spirit of the 6O's turned realist and aren't scared to put their ballot paper in the box: the self-righteous respects what demands to be respected. Their books are not books but good deeds. How could they go astray? They are in the right before the act: what is denounced by Good can only be Evil.
But not everyone is so favoured: whoever criticizes democracy loses respectability. Against us, denouncers only need to profess their indignation. Reading La Banquise made our accusers sick, and resulted in them feeling not so much disagreement as nausea. What better argument than suffering? Such extremes of pain and anger couldn't be wrong. Emotional blackmail turns the opponent into a monster. Decent chaps versus bastards, that's what it's all about.
Every political trial puts intention in the dock. For this reason, nothing is served by turning the accusation back on the accusers. Of course the democracies allowed the genocide of the Jews. Of course the higher ranks of French fascism weren't filled by "bordiguists" -- rather by leaders drawn from ex-socialist and ex-Stalinist ranks. Of course, those who denounce us as hidden anti-semites support a CP whose past and present Russian comrades readily maintain a heavy anti-Jewish rhetoric which dwarfs Le Pen's jokes and insinuations. Of course the ex-leftists who bear down upon us have for thirty years praised a third-worldism often close to national-bolshevism, and indeed shaken many a bloody hand in Cuba or Peking. Of course we are itching to shout to all the activists, journalists and academics who support a left which rallied to the defense of the fatherland a century ago: national socialism is your politics. All this is true. But we would miss the point if we too returned the jibe "YOU are the fascists", when what matters is breaking down with any form of stigmatization. Contrary to our enemies, we have no enemies. We do not oppose wage labour because the boss has a secret bank account in Switzerland. Who cares if those who treat us as enemies have dirty hands or not ? Let them valorize a worthiness which is for them both a raison d'ˆtre and a livelihood. For they are honourable men.
Any politics is to be judged by its methods. Social criticism attacks a way of life as well as institutions. The politics of denunciation does the exact opposite: it is soft on social relations and hard on individuals. It calls for ethical cleansing. Purification. Eradication of the evil-doers. It revels in revealing names and demands that others do so too. It informs and loves informers. It presupposes that society would be fine without the profiteer who hoards wealth, without the nazi, without the paedophile. And, what's more, without those who refuse to choose the wrong target, without us. A historical vision where social forces oppose one another is replaced by that of a confrontation between a ruling figure and oppressed persons, between an executioner and his victims, which has no origin other than ideology, hatred, the desire to exclude and dominate -- a desire which is behind the international speculator, the nazi, the rapist, the negationist and their ultra-left accomplice... What is important is to be on the side of good, and to feed the people with hidden inside information.
Revolutionaries have always tried to say: this is how things are and how they could change. Truth is never a secret. It is a matter of understanding not unmasking. It deprives the expert of his privilege. Otherwise only physicists have the right to speak about nuclear power, and biologists are the only people who can talk about genetic modification: in other words, the common man is forever condemned to evaluate the views of specialists who are always one discovery ahead of him. One of the criteria of a revolutionary critique is that of supposing equality: not because it regards anyone as capable of absorbing the knowledge of a Nobel prize winner in six months, but because the questions it asks are different. Social critique is based on facts which aren't obvious, but are fundamental and understandable by everyone. The "secret" is that there is no secret.
The worst expert is the one with expertise in secrets. "Believe the Impossible": conspiracy theory starts from the principle that everything hides its opposite. It assumes there is a faked truth and those who produced this fake. Incapable of understanding the basis of this society - working, buying, selling, going where the state official tells us to go - it unearths the document supposed to prove the rapacity of the boss, the corruption of the mayor, the shady past of the statesman, the infamous sex life of the billionnaire, and of course some secrets funds. Whether it uncovers the "real" masters of the world, mafia or Moscow gold, the Trilateral Commission, the Moonie sect or the Opus Dei, Mossad agents or Stasi moles, this point of view puts together segmented facts. It is this impoverished vision which reached the high point of caricature in the recent inquisitorial delirium. When the brain has faith in occult powers, it short-circuits.
For two hundred years, there has been a common reactionary position (held, among others, by fascism) which depicts a society that's rotten but still based on healthy foundations, and which sets out to separate the wheat from the chaff through a revelation of baneful underground influences. Politics as denunciation presupposes an enlightened elite capable of warning the ordinary misled mortal against those who would pervert him. What difference is there between "The Parliament is in the hands of the banks" and "The ultra-left plays into neonazis' hands" ? Nothing much, except that with information inflation, Henri Coston now writes Ph.D.s and contributes to "quality" dailies.3
The difference between our denouncers and ourselves: we don't keep files on them.
Former members of La Banquise: J.-P. C., G.D., J.H., D.M.
"The proletariat does not wonder just what the bourgeois want, but what they're forced to want."
Marx, German Brussels Gazette, September 12th, 1847
"There is nothing that can't be understood."
Isidore Ducasse, Poésies, 1870
"It says what it says, literally and in every possible way."
Rimbaud to his mother, who was baffled after reading Une Saison en Enfer, 1873
"I watched him with some interest, for it was the first time that I had seen a person whose profession was telling lies -- unless one counts journalists."
Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, 1938
- 1 The reader who compares this text with my participation in the book Libertaires et ultra-gauches contre le négationnisme
(Ed.Reflex, 1996) will see that The X-Filers is a self-criticism of the way I defended myself three years ago. The adequate response to slander would have been either silence or counter-attack, not a justification which only added more confusion. (Gilles Dauvé)
- 2 The only revisionism with a stake in history, and hence theoretical interest, would be that which divided the Second International a hundred years ago and has ever since served as a model for reformism, as well as an inspiration for reactionary politics. It called for a cross-class alliance, the reintegration of the proletariat into the nation, a waged community under State guidance, and the acceptance of imperialism. In short, the marriage of the nation and of the workers' movement, summarized a little later by George Valois (founder of the first French fascist group, "Le Faisceau") in the formula:
Nationalism + Socialism = Fascism.
- 3 In over fifty years, H.Coston has produced a long series of books, packed with minute pointless data, all leading to the conclusion that the people of France are ruled by an outside minority, be it the freemasons, the Protestants, international banking, and to cap it all, the Jews.
Le Parlement aux mains des banques, published in Contre Courant, November 1956, was written by Paul Rassinier, one of the founding fathers of gas chamber revisionism.