Totalitarian Struggle or Individual Freedom


[I enjoy “Don’t Trip Up” and am cross-posting something here for your reading enjoyment.]

Totalitarian Struggle or Individual Freedom

By Stephen Farrington

Michael Young, opinion editor of the Daily Star newspaper in Lebanon, writes in reason about the infatuation some on the left have with Hezbollah. He asks whether the supporters of Hezbollah are truly aware of what they are supporting, and whether the likes of Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein can really be described as left-wing:

But there was more here than just manipulation. The Mughniyeh affair highlights a deeper problem long obvious to those who follow Hezbollah: The party, though it is religious, autocratic, and armed to the teeth, often elicits approval from secular, liberal Westerners who otherwise share nothing of its values. This reaction, in its more extreme forms, is reflected in the way many on the far left have embraced Hezbollah’s militancy, but also that of other Islamist groups like Hamas or Islamic Jihad—thoroughly undermining their ideological principles in the process.

The primary emotion driving together the far-left and militant Islamists, but also frequently prompting secular liberals to applaud armed Islamic groups as well, is hostility toward the United States, toward Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians, and, more broadly, toward what is seen as Western-dominated, capitalist-driven globalization…

This behavior comes full circle especially for the revolutionary fringe on the left, which seems invariably to find its way back to violence. In the same way that Finkelstein can compare Hezbollah admiringly to the Soviet Red Army and the communist resistance during World War II (“it was brutal, it was ruthless”), he sees in resistance a quasi-religious act that brooks no challenge, even from its likely victims. What is so odd in Finkelstein and those like him is that the universalism and humanism at the heart of the left’s view of itself has evaporated, to be replaced by categorical imperatives usually associated with the extreme right: blood; honor; solidarity; and the defense of near-hallowed land.

Blind faith in the service of total principle is what makes those like Finkelstein and Chomsky so vile. But their posturing is made possible because of the less ardent secular liberal publicists out there who surrender to the narratives that Islamists such as Hezbollah, Hamas, or others peddle to them—lending them legitimacy. That’s because modern scholarship, like liberalism itself, refuses to impose Western cultural standards on non-Westerners. Fine. But as the Mughniyeh case shows, when Islamists dominate the debate affecting them, there are plenty of fools out there dying to be tossed a bone.

Young makes an excellent point when he points out that many do not look beyond Hezbollah’s own narrative of ‘anti-imperialist struggle’ or dissect their repulsive ideology. The case against Hezbollah can be made without imposing “Western cultural standards” because it is not a question of culture. It is a question of who rules Lebanon – a democratic government and the rule of law or a violent militia bent on destroying Israel. Support for Hezbollah is support for the undemocratic rule of those living in the south, where Lebanese state control has been pushed back…

The post continues:

As Young point out, “resistance [is seen as] a quasi-religious act that brooks no challenge, even from its likely victims.” The romantic narrative of the ‘freedom fighter’ creates blinkers that mean some on the left ignore a movement’s terrorism in favour of their ‘struggle’. Just like the Comintern believed, anyone struggling against imperialism (i.e., capitalism and globalisation) is an ally – even if their ideology is nationalist or even Islamist. They are allies in the global struggle and will help rid the world of the evils of capitalism.

[read it all here]

My small critique of the post (which I provided in the comments) is viewing the Comintern’s position as:

“Anyone struggling against imperialism (i.e., capitalism and globalisation) is an ally.”

I think it was more:

Anyone who is an ally is “fighting against imperialism.”

In other words, Comintern ideology reflected the domestic and foreign policy needs and concerns of the USSR. Any nation-state in the Soviet camp was defacto “anti-imperialist” regardless of the class structure, relations of production, modes of production, or any of the other things Marx wrote about.

The revolutionary sects in the U.S. that backed any armed struggle movement as long as the people rebelling were brown and trying to overthrow capitalism were part of the third-world centered New Left rather than the working-class focused Old Left. The differences are important. At least they were among these groups at the time.

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