Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Tragedy of Left-Wing Zionist Advocacy

I identify as a progressive Zionist. This means both that I try to support Zionist ideals in a manner consistent with broader progressive obligations (particularly the need to be fair to groups not my own -- Palestinians being the obvious ones), but also that my support for Zionism itself stems out of left-wing, anti-subordination theory.

The argument that Zionism is ultimately a theory "of the left", and that, more importantly, we have to analyze anti-Zionism from a perspective that takes account of the subordinated status of Jews and the entrenched nature of structural anti-Semitism world-wide, is a claim I often make in the comments of the various feminist blogs I read, such as Alas, a Blog and Feministe. Recently, the latter had a post up on Israel's 60th birthday, and I went to work in the comments.

I comment at Feministe because I feel like, by and large, I'll get a respectful hearing and that most of my interlocutors, though not necessarily agreeing with me, will make good, meaningful points and grapple with my analysis (some are idiots, but you get that anywhere). This session wasn't different -- in fact, it was more successful than most. I got Jill to put a disclaimer at the top of this post noting that the claim that an Israeli official was threatening Palestinians with a new Holocaust was based off a mis-translation of the Hebrew. I also got a nice message from Feminist Gal basically telling me to keep up the great work. So that felt good.

But I still can't shake the feeling that there is a sense in which I struggle in vain. My goal in these threads is to argue from an aggressively and self-consciously progressive standpoint to defend Israel and the Zionist project (conceptually -- not always as applied) from their attackers on the left. In my head, I see it almost territorially: I'm not willing to cede the terrain of anti-subordination to those who I think would do my people harm, and reify my oppressed status. The hope is that, by showing how Zionism actually flows from progressive principles, I can convert them to the light: you're a progressive, Zionism is progressive, hence, you should be Zionist.

But yet, it doesn't work that way. People rarely allow ideology to trump deep-seated moral or political beliefs -- and the belief that Jews should be permanently barred from joining them family of nation-states certainly qualifies as deep-seated. Even if I did manage to make a facial case that Zionism is part of the progressive panoply of ideas, I'm not sure it would do much good. Theory doesn't trump practice, and I suspect that my argument is more likely to cause my targets to disavow leftism than to disavow anti-Zionism.

What I mean by that isn't that the folks I'm talking to are so committed to Jew-hatred that, when faced with the prospect of supporting Zionism, they'll run screaming all the way back to neo-conservatism. What I mean is that they'll use this opportunity to prove that they're iconoclastic. "I may be a leftist, but I'm not one of those types of leftists." Ideology bends to experience, and experience tells these people that they can never support the Zionist project. If Zionism is of the left, then it's the left that has to give way.

I'm not saying I'm making that perfect, uber-argument that forces people into this position. But if that's the horizon of my efforts, it hardly seems to be a fight worth continuing.

On the other hand, there is still my "cede the terrain" point. Even if I can't convince folks to give up anti-Zionism, I sure as hell don't want them claiming their position is the progressive one. The ground of anti-subordination is ground that matters to me. I will not be driven off it by fundamentally illiberal, reactionary, anti-Jewish forces without a fight.

13 comments:

Phoebe said...

What do you make of the fact that if anything, anti-Semitism's historical roots are on the left? The idea, then as now, is that there's no such thing as oppression of Jews, all there is is justified protest against Jews' economic stranglehold on the nations in which Jews live. As with most ideas that get people riled up, it's not rational and showing evidence of impoverished Jews will not help.

David Schraub said...

I think anti-Semitism's roots lie both right and left, because anti-Semitism is an incredibly mutable ideology. To the left, the Jews were the evil capitalist barons who's boots were crushing the proletariat. But to the right, Jews were rabble-rousing communists whose rootless cosmopolitanism threatened law, order, capitalism, and nation.

And that's just economics. The debate between old-school Christianity and Enlightenment secularism broke the same way. To the right, Jews were Christ-killing deviants who needed to be grinded into dust. To the left, Jewish particularity was a barrier to universalist ideology -- they needed "their heads [to] be cut off in one night and replaced with others not containing a single Jewish idea."

Matt said...

Calling Fichte a leftist is as stupid as this post is self-righteous.

Phoebe said...

Its roots are certainly on both sides, but there's a good case for them being more left than right. But either way, this puts into question why one would expect the Left today to sympathize with the Zionist cause. Not that one would expect the Right to do so, either.

David Schraub said...

I actually think the "roots" question flips the causality. Anti-Semitism predates the emergence of what we know as "left" and "right" ideologies -- I don't think either can be said to be responsible for the emergence of anti-Semitism so much as they proved to both be fertile soil for already existing anti-Semitism. (Which one currently is a more dangerous carrier of the virus is, of course, up for debate).

I agree with you that I don't "expect" the left to support Zionism -- I just think that their lack of support is an ideological inconsistency. But I don't really think most people are bound to ideology, so that's not surprising to me.

schiller1979 said...

I'm not sure how one fits left or right into anti-semitism or the idea of Zionism, but I think a major factor in changing the left's view of the State of Israel over the last 60 years has been Israel's moving away from socialism.

Cycle Cyril said...

Several ideas in no particular order.

I agree with you that we (Jews, Zionists etc) need to be fair to other groups. But only if they are fair to us. And don't get into the crap about the cycle of violence. There have been all too many times when Jews and Israel have turned the other cheek (Christian metaphor intended) and merely got another suicide vest in turn.

The present day leftist does not care about Israel or consistency with anti-subordination theory because the left is against the fundamental ideology of the West which the rights of the individual. The left is essentially statist in orientation. The state directs everything and anything whether it be in the nanny state version of the present European Union or the dictatorial state version of Putin or Chavez.

Consequently any political entity supporting the Western concerns of the individual gets lambasted by the left and any political system that lambastes the West gets lauded.

This is why Israel is forever a pariah according to many. For example a feminist (yeah, I'll concede not all) would roundly censure Israel but a truly misogynistic state like most Arabic states get only a pro forma censure.

Zionism is not a "progressive" ideology. While many socialists made up the early Zionists and lived a communal existence in Israel, Zionism in its essence was and is the voice of a people saying that I have a right to a land and just as importantly a right to be free as a person within that land.

This is the essence of the founding of British America and the subsequent American Revolution. People came to this land and to be free within it. (And yes it may not have been perfect in the beginning but the seeds of a more perfect union was created then).

Thus most of the left, particularly the far left, will never give Israel an inch. It is not because they truly care about the Palestinians but because they harbor animosity toward the West and its perceived faults.

Your attempts to change their minds is valiant but doomed to failure.

One final comment. When the arabs conquered, and conquered quite violently, the Middle East and North Africa, the majority of the population of the regions were Christians and Jews. The Jewish population of the region far exceeded the number of Jews in Europe at that time. And yet 1300 hundred years later (prior to the Holocaust) there were 9 to 10 million Jews in Europe and at best 800,000 in N. Africa and the M.E. My point in relating these numbers is that life was actually better for Jews in Europe over the long run than in the Islamic world. This is contrary to a posting you made on another website.

David Schraub said...

Given that Zionism is a group claim for group-rights (Jews qua Jews deserve a state because Jews deserve [insert justification for Israel here: safety, autonomy, self-determination]), it's really hard for me to see how it fundamentally aligns with Western individualism. Zionism is a particularistic claim -- it clashes with the secular universalism that is the West's intellectual hallmark, and indeed I'd argue is a reaction to that theory's root hostility to Jews. It is self-evidently not based on some universal conception of human brotherhood, or atomized individuals, but rather based on the idea that there is a particular need that Jews as a group need into order to survive and thrive in a gentile-dominated world.

The closest analogue in a Western context is the building of Black Student Unions in the midst of White-dominated universities. Black students argued that (a) the vast majority of students at universities were White and (b) that the effective day-to-day practice of the university, even if nominally neutral, was predicated on a White norm which (c) led to de facto inequality necessitating (d) the creation of an autonomous, identifiably Black institution within the school in order to provide a base from which Black interests could be articulated, pursued and defended. Zionism represents the exact same argument: (a) most people in the world are non-Jewish, (b) the world operates with the interests of non-Jews privileged over those of Jews, even when its nominally behaving neutrally, (c) this is oppressive so (d) we need an autonomous institution within the global community from which we can articulate, defend, and pursue our own interests.

TempvsMortis said...

The problem is that you're confusing Zionism with support of Israel, which is why I don't actually think it's inherently left wing. Zionism IS Jewish nationalism. Other lands were available after WWII, but Israel was chosen because it was once owned by Jews (which I think is a terrible argument; should American's claim England because we're English) and because of a supposed Biblical right, all based around exclusive rights the Jewish people have, "as a race". I have friends who are anti-Zionist not because they're anti-Semitic, but because they see Zionism in everyone they meet as a form of Israeli and Jewish nationalism, which is therefore decidedly anti-cosmopolitan and as with most forms of nationalism, conservative and irrational.

None of my friends think Israelis should be kicked off their land, because it is unjust to remove people from their land because of some old claim to the land by someone's ancestors, just in the same way it was unjust for the diaspora to claim the land from the Arab Muslims and Christians who had been living there for a thousand years, while many of the European Jews immigrating had never even seen Israel before in their life.

Also, because Zionism is seen as racial nationalism, it comes along with the blanket approval that nationalism has, of unjust acts performed by the nation against the "other". So, some see the injustice done to non-Jews in and around Israel by the Israelis as a direct result of Zionism, because Zionist fund-raising organizations pay them much of their money, and Zionist policies in Israel and America tacitly endorse the actions.

My best friend refers to himself as "anti-Zionist" but almost all of his friends are Jewish, and many have Zionist families that he gets along with to one degree or another. (I'd also like to mention that the mother of one of his friends, who is incredibly Zionist, is also incredibly conservative and a staunch republican, not to mention quite racist towards the French, Germans, English, Arabs [who are also Semitic, I'd like to point out], Persians, and many others. Supposedly according to you Zionism is liberal, but the most Zionist people I've ever met have all been conservatives.)

This is also the problem you pose in alienating a lot of people. "Zionism" to a lot of people doesn't mean support of Israel. To them it means BLANKET support of Israel, including any and all injustices done by Israel, and open support of racial nationalism, since Israel was founded on racial separatism.

What I've found is that people who were born in Israel don't need to call themselves "Zionists". They just view Israel as a country. Somehow I get the feeling that the term "Zionist" is a little bit macho, somehow proving to yourself that you support Israel. Native Israelis don't care about "Zionism" unless they're supper conservative, only non-Israeli Jews seem to make such a big deal out of being part of the "club".

The ultimate problem I have is that there are people who are liberal, oppose everything the Bush administration and conservatives have done, but when Israel does the exact same thing, frequently under the secret urging of American conservatives, they're suddenly conservative and give Israel a blank check. If you're liberal, then you have to treat Israel as any other country. If it acts unjustly, then it is unjust. If it acts kindly, then it is kind. Nothing more. Nothing less. Secular, native born Israelis see this, and I actually like them very much.

Being in support of Israel doesn't make you a Zionist, and being against Zionism doesn't make you against Israel (or Jews, which "Zionists" always try to equate). Anti-Zionism in liberals is not somehow anti-Semitic, and you can see that in the kinds of people who are liberal and anti-Zionist. I'm sorry, but there's a difference between a liberal who thinks the Zionist mindset supports unjust Israeli parties and policies (there are just Israeli parties and policies, but they don't get the money from American donors), and a right-wing Neo-Nazi who hates Zionism because he hates Jews. The fact that you equate the two is incredibly disingenuous. There is a difference, and the kind of "us or them" mentality that many see as a hallmark of Zionism (which allowed you to equate anti-Zionist liberals with racists) is inherently anti-liberal and conservative, and thus Zionism - Jewish Nationalism - can be seen as an injection of fundamentalist and right-wing values into the middle of the left, which I'd like to point out is still Zionist by the vast majority. Most Americans give blanket support to Israel, so what fight are you fighting?

Perfect point I'd like to make here, right now. One of my best friends, of many years, is a Jewish woman, brought up by conservative, orthodox Jewish parents. She is staunchly anti-Zionist. Are you saying she is a self-hating Jew because she doesn't support racial separatism and Jewish nationalism? She even gave up her Israeli citizenship during the recent Lebanon war (her family doesn't talk to her any more). (Once again, the fact that you equate anti-Zionism with racism against Jews is very, very disingenuous.)

David Schraub said...

I don't think nationalism is inherently non-left (what about Black Power? And most anti-colonial revolutions were to one extent or another nationalist projects). Nationalism often is a pragmatic strategy by which the dispossessed seek to claim rights and power, and that is the form it took for Zionism.

One could argue that, insofar as Zionism essentially is the idea that Jews should have a national state in what is now Israel and that goal has been achieved, Zionism is now an obsolete term. And to an extent that's true. I think it was Phoebe who described the contemporary meaning of being a Zionist as (I'm paraphrasing) the belief that the creation of Israel was a good idea and that Israel should stick around. In Israel, this is a pretty moot point -- for obvious reasons, Israelis are pretty much in agreement on both those points, hence no need to identify as a "Zionist" unless one supports some more controversial form of it (e.g., Greater Israel). But outside Israel, and particularly in the left circles I run in, that formulation is still quite the live controversy, so Zionism is meaningful. I call myself a Zionist in left circles because I feel the need to ratify the position that (a) it was a good thing to create Israel-as-a-Jewish-State and (b) we should keep it around. If you define Zionism solely as Greater Israel or other more virulent manifestations, then sure, I'm with you against it, but that's not what I (nor most Jews, I believe) are talking about when we talk about Zionism. Hence what I said about my defense of the Zionist project conceptually, not always as applied.

Any concrete policy position (such as "the establishment of Israel was a good idea") can be arrived at from a variety of positions -- left and right (earlier in this thread we showed the same thing with anti-Semitism). I don't deny there are plenty of conservative Zionists, though the fact that most American Jews are liberal and most American Jews are Zionist should open you up to the conclusion that most Jews conceptualize their Zionism as liberal (not that most Jews become reactionary sociopaths when the topic turn to Israel). And of course, there are a minority of Jews (left and right) who oppose Zionism, for a variety of reasons. I don't begrudge any Jew who, in response to our oppression, thinks that there are better paths to liberation than Zionism (I do begrudge Jews who try to deny that Jews exist in state of oppression at all). But I do think that they occupy a position roughly equivalent to Clarence Thomas, minorities within the minority, and it is a sketchy move to only listen to the minority which affirms our pre-existing views (adopted from a position of privilege) to the majority of the dispossessed who are urging more disquieting (to the arbiters of power, anyway) alternatives. By dismissing the (at the least) plurality Jewish diaspora disposition of liberal Zionism as some sort of dysfunctional schizophrenia, you can recast the debate in the very comfortable confines of liberal anti-Zionist and conservative Zionist -- but it's coerced discourse. It's not a genuine engagement with the Jewish community.

Consequently, in analyzing Israel and Zionism, I think it's really important to keep the issue of anti-Semitism front and center. All this hand waving about how "we're liberals, so clearly anti-Semitism isn't present in our thinking at all," is, if you'll forgive me, classic privileged bullshit. It's anti-Semitic when it shuts out the vast majority of Jewish voices (or dismisses us as having just gone crazy -- see the above sociopath remark). And it's anti-Semitic when it doesn't pay attention to the mechanics of power. What Israel does is not "the same thing" as what Bush does. It can't be, because the United States is the global hegemon and hyperpower, and Israel, while certainly possessing excellent pound-for-pound military might, still is the size of Vancouver Island and has very little global influence. Aside from the fact that the conception of Jews as hyperpowerful is classic anti-Semitic imagery, the response of the oppressed reacting against oppression is not a mirror image to the acts of the oppressor. As Carmichael and Hamilton argued in Black Power (once again, paraphrasing), the oppressed often have to look to "us" because "they" have a tendency to slit our throats when we're vulnerable. That is not analogous to empowered groups engaging in "us versus them" politics to reify privilege. It's only "the same" to those who care more about the form than they do about the substantive condition in the lives of the oppressed.

I'm not saying you want Jews to die. You seem like you like us well enough (so long as we don't get to uppity, anyway), and I try to resist appending the title "racist" or "anti-semite" to those who do not directly wish harm on the target. But the arguments, the ideology and structure you're trying to hold together, is anti-Semitic -- whether "liberally" motivated or not. At the very least, it is indifferent to whether Jews live or die -- and its ire is trained not on the forces that are killing us (beyond the very very proximate fingers that pull the triggers, maybe), but our own efforts to save us.

TempvsMortis said...

Since when did my argument stipulate that I don't care if Jews live or die? This was the whole point I was making about the "us or them" mentality that the whole position engenders. I don't like it when innocent people are unjustly killed, and I'm completely aware of the irrationality of the position of Palestinians who blow up innocent children. I'm just pointing out that many organizations that many would call "Zionist" advocate an Israel that I find quite conservative. These are the kinds of organizations that raise money from rich New Yorkers "for Israel" without quite illustrating that those dollars are going to expansionist settlements. Settlements where there are walls separating the Palestinians from the land that only years before they owned, over which Israeli settlers literally throw old food and eggs down at their houses while the soldiers there to guard the settlers do nothing.

And this whole "uppity" comment, I find insulting. So suddenly I'm an elitist snot because I don't like anything that presupposes exclusive rights towards one race or another. And by the way, I dislike black nationalism. I can understand it, but I completely disagree with it. I'm aware it's technically "liberal" but honestly I don't think it philosophically fits with what liberalism should be.

And yes, there is antisemitism in the world, but no, being Jewish is not the same thing as being black or Latino in the US. Jews long ago worked their butts off and got their way up the economic ladder and are now on the whole fairly successful, while other minorities are still struggling, so I think it's unfair to somehow paint yourself as some kind of victim. You're in graduate school training to be a law professor (or will be soon). There is no drive in the US to dismantle Israel, which is why I find Zionism strange. Even people who don't agree with the militarism and nationalism that pervades a lot of Israeli policy still believe the US should be friendly towards it, in the same way we should be friendly towards any fellow democracy, but you don't see us bending over backwards when Japan squanders the world's oceanic resources, but Israel gets a lot of leeway politically because of Christian support and Jewish support, which is fine, but I feel it leaves the whole playing field horribly skewed to just throw money at the problem. Like I said before, if we just have such a hunky-dory policy towards everything Israel does then it will not turn out so well, because a massive amount of Israel's budget comes from our government, and from donations.

Now I said nothing specifically negative against Israel in my last post (except on the fact that it was founded the way it was, on colonialism and kicking people off their land, but then again so was America and you don't see me saying we should dismantle the US), nor anything antisemitic, but the instant I even take up the cause (which I take up only to be a counterbalance to what I feel is an incredibly stilted political stance in our country) your blinders go on and suddenly I'm being elitist, and at best espousing a subdued form of antisemitism.

And what do you think Zionism even means? At this point its such a vague term in the way you use it that it's hard to determine by your standards whether I'm for or against it. The way I'm defining it is as Jewish Nationalism. The problem I have with any form of racial nationalism is this isn't France. We aren't all French people. This country was founded on plurality, and so any exclusivity doctrine is inherently detrimental. Coexistence is mandatory; you can't just decide you don't like the rest of the world and build your own little house. Also, by this view I think there's sort of a non-American sentiment to it. I've seen on the doors of the parents of my friends, Israeli flags and never American flags. Now, I'm not saying that they should put American flags there to balance it out (I find the liberal use of the flag in the US crass), but it illustrates a point. If you live in the US, then act like it's your country. In that way Israel should only get our support a) if it serves our national interests and/or b) if it acts according to the morals we were founded on. Thus, if the US tortures and we say it's bad, then it is bad when Israel tortures. If it's bad when the US is imperialistic and expands, then it's bad when Israel does it. If anything, I think this at-the-hip connection between the US and Israel is really bad for Israel, because there are many moments (the recent Lebanon war) when it seems pretty obvious that the over-reaction was created by the US. With such dependence on the US, Israel becomes a reflection of our policies to one degree or another, and so things are highly dependent on how rational we decide to be that election cycle.

And here is what I mean. Had a friend in high school, fairly close identification to Israel, but very very liberal. Now on things of US foreign policy he was very anti-imperialist, but when we were discussing the return of the Sinai to Egypt during the 70s, I heard him say "They start it, and then after they lose they whine until we give them our land."

No one deserves anything beyond basic justice. No one deserves the land of their ancestors, because we'd have to redraw the map of the whole damn world if that were true, considering how much territory has changed hands. You are not special because you are a Jew, nor am I special because I am not. You, nor your family, nor people related to you distantly by 3,000 years deserve anything than what they have.

And I don't care if Jews have a state, just like I don't care if the French have a state (I don't mean that I don't care if they die, which you stated, but that I don't hate them for existing). It's just damn land (and crappy land in Israel, too). What matters is how it affects people's lives, and whether the exchange of land is just. This isn't the 1800s, when we just ran the Native Americans off their land. That's considered in bad taste now, to say the least. (There was land in Bavaria; if all that mattered was having land they should have taken it. The Germans did the crime, so take their land, what the hell did the Arabs do but be oppressed by Europeans?)

And what I meant by saying the people on the left who you're criticizing aren't necessarily antisemitic, what I was trying to say is that the kind of people on the left who are non-Jewish and who could be classified as Zionists tend to be lower income, religious kinds of people. Somehow I don't see Ezra Klein as being a Jew-hater. I mean, really...

I ask you this: which part of the US should we give to black people? How about the part you live on, that seems only fair. Racial nationalism is racist. No one deserves anything because of their skin, or their ancestry. You have what you have, you don't have what you don't have. You don't deserve someone else's stuff. You don't deserve a free pass every time you crack open someone's skull, because of your race.

If Israel was just looked at as a nation then one would see the politicians there, advocating the redrawing of the borders to put the majority-Arab parts into Palestine. One would see the hate-crimes performed against people who have lived there their whole lives by people who grew up in Eastern Europe. One would see the racism among even just Jews, the stratification of Jewish society based on ancestry (German, English, and American Jews on top and Sephardim and other Middle-Eastern Jews on the bottom). This doesn't mean Israel is some kind of Satanic place, but what I'm trying to point out is that it's a normal place, and any irrational support for it based entirely on over-justified emotional grounds only leads to the support of immoral policies and actions. When Israeli policy results in bad actions, they should be criticized, just as the US should for its own actions.

And BTW, as a Liberal I oppose affirmitive action and reparations on the grounds of justice, so I can't accept the argument that I somehow should support a blanket sentiment about Israel based on some convoluted notion of it's what Jews deserve. I find it strange that despite all of the racially based countries out there (France, Germany, etc.) no other country gives you citizenship based solely on your race. My Great Grandfather was a German immigrant, but you don't see me with German citizenship. No one deserves a leg-up over someone else because someone they know suffered, or they're related to someone who suffered, or because they are correlated by some abstract notion of race to people who suffered. If we adhere to the other position then that would mean we'd have to give all of our land - all of it - back to the reservation tribes.

And no offense, but the reason I dislike Zionism has a lot to do with the self-righteousness people tend to have who call themselves "Zionists". I find ZionISTS, in particular, to be incredibly unyielding and self-righteous, which gets insanely irritating after a while to the point where you can't help but feel resentment. Also, you missed my point of there are actually anti-Zionist Jews who don't proscribe to one of those sects that say Israel is unjust because it must only be created by the Messiah, being too busy calling me a racist.

And don't be vague about it. What is this "oppression" that you're talking about? There really aren't that many poor Jews, just as there aren't many poor Anglo-Saxons (people in Appalachia and many other poor white areas are German, Scotch-Irish, Polish, Czech, and others). Who in the US has amassed any sort of collective power large enough to actually oppress Jews? I hope you realize oppression means the physical act of denial. Racism will always exist to some degree as long as we can categorize, but I don't see mass poverty among the Jewish community here in the US. Who is actively, physically, institutionally oppressing Jews in the US in the manor that African Americans, Native Americans, Arabs, and Hispanics are genuinely prevented economic and social mobility due to racism and institutional poverty?

You don't seem so oppressed. No Jew I have ever met has been oppressed, though this is NY. Maybe the five Jews out in the middle of Montana have something to say. (If I'm being kind of inflammatory, it's due to my irritation.)

I don't CARE if a person is Jewish, and considering all but 3 friends I have ever had have all been Jewish, ALL of them, I find your statement fairly insulting. What I DO care about is a person's positions, and since I see Zionism as a form of racial exclusivity I see it as a form of racism, and not against me, I'm white and well off so I don't care, but there are other people who aren't, and also my principals oppose the very idea of racial exclusivity.

PG said...

Nationalism might be "left," but surely it isn't liberal. An anti-colonial movement that was based on getting the imperialist foot off the neck of all the oppressed is liberal; an anti-colonial movement that was based on getting the imperialist foot off the neck of Group A so A could better oppress Group B is nationalist. (The Boer Wars in South Africa could be characterized as the latter type of anti-colonial movement.)

India presents a decent example of an anti-colonial movement that had both facets. The most well-known faces of the movement, e.g. Gandhi and Nehru, wore at least the trappings of liberalism. They did not argue for a Hindutva, a nation of Hindus; they argued for an India in which the people who considered themselves Indians (which the British never did there, unlike the sense of becoming an American in colonial America) would run the state. They did not distinguish between the group of Indians that had been there the longest (who were generally associated with Hinduism) and those that had arrived after the 9th century AD (who were generally associated with Islam). You weren't "more Indian" based on your religion; you were either someone who identified as Indian or someone who identified as British (or in small bits of India, as French or Portuguese).

Conveniently for Hindus like Gandhi and Nehru, over the whole region known as British India, their group was the majority, and they could be quietly sure that in a democracy, Hindus would hold the majority of power and thus no laws oppressive to them were likely to be instituted. (And indeed while India has affirmative action for the backwards castes of Hinduism, there is little or no affirmative action for Muslims, despite their disproportionate poverty.)

But there always have been Hindu nationalist factions in India, and while such might be "left," they aren't liberal; it is a position held by conservatives. Defining a nation in racially or religiously exclusionary terms is inherently a rightist move. It's like the difference between left totalitarianism (manifested in Communism) and right totalitarianism (manifested in Fascism). Left totalitarians claim that they want to define the state and its legitimate people by adherence to a belief that is open to all (e.g., Marxism, Maoism). Right totalitarians want to define the state and its legitimate people by birth: one is racially Japanese, or Germanic, or descended from the Romans. Certainly some Communists were themselves racist, as in Stalin's pogroms against Jews and Roma, but even he tried to justify it by claiming those groups were disloyal to Marxism, not that they were lacking in "Russian-ness." A Fascist state seeks to gather together those of the in-group and then further expansion is to dominate the out-group. A Communist state doesn't have an in-group, just more peoples and territories who are subsumed to the ideology.

David Schraub said...

I agree that left-nationalism is not "liberal" (in the sense of being based on universal, neutral principles), but it doesn't have to be fascist either -- group solidarity that is based around a need for protection against the oppressors is different from group solidarity based on a desire to dominate the other. Black Power is not fascist.