Towards a Left Critique of Indiscriminate Violence, by Anatoly Kropivnitskyi – 15 November 2023

How has the political meaning of resistance come to be devalued? What are the affinities between the artistic critique of capitalism and a fascination with violence? What should be taken into account when advocating for the Palestinian cause? Social researcher Anatoly Kropivnitskyi polemicizes with the grotesque defenders of Islamists

The author supports the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and the end of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories since 1967, and condemns the killing of innocent civilians in the Gaza Strip and in Israel. Recognizing and condemning the October 7 massacre does not condone or justify the killing of civilians in the Gaza Strip, and vice versa.

The unexpected character and sheer brutality of Hamas’ assault on Israel on October 7, 2023 sent shockwaves around the world. One month in, as Israeli Defense Forces are entering the Gaza Strip for the first time in eighteen years, London, Berlin and Istanbul are hosting huge pro-Palestine rallies, while Makhachkala is on the brink of a pogrom, it is increasingly clear that the Israel — Hamas war matters far beyond its immediate regional context. The interpretative frameworks applied to it have also become one of the axes of political cleavages, particularly in relation to the acceptability of indiscriminate violence and its role in progressive politics.

The scale and depth of the attack led to the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust —Hamas terrorists killed 1400 people and took 242 hostages. For Israel, with its population of 9.3 million people, October 7 was a tragedy many times worse than September 11 was for the U.S. — and possibly the worst failure of security and intelligence services in the history of the state. More than a thousand terrorists, attacking on land, sea, and air, took Israeli security services by surprise, making possible a bloody massacre of civilians from the kibbutzim near the Gaza Strip border, whose residents were decimated. Rockets continue to be launched into Israel every day.

Israel retaliated with unprecedented brutality. Since the beginning of the war, the Gaza Strip has been subjected to a severe bombing campaign. According to the IDF, 50 Hamas leaders were killed in aerial strikes by October 29th. According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, Israeli aerial strikes killed more than 11,000 and injured more than 26,000 Palestinians, most of whom were children and women; as of November 7, about 1.5 million civilians in Gaza had to leave their homes. With supplies of water, energy, and humanitarian aid being limited by Israel and Egypt, as well as Hamas’ attempts to block the evacuation of civilians to the south of the enclave, the Gaza Strip is now facing a humanitarian disaster. Moreover, the Israeli ground offensive threatens the lives of the hostages, whose relatives are calling for a ceasefire. Amid intensified settler attacks on the Palestinians in the West Bank and the growing risk of escalation with Hezbollah in Lebanon and pro-Iranian militants in Syria and Yemen, the region is at risk of even more horrific violence.

The outcomes of the war remain uncertain, unlike some of its political consequences — including the intensive soul-searching among the international left, which is already being compared to the split in the Communist movement after the suppression of the Hungarian uprising by the Soviet Army in 1956. On October 7, some European and American leftists celebrated Hamas’ attack on Israeli kibbutzim as a heroic act of resistance whose violent character was justified by its progressive aims — the struggle against “settler colonialism”, for national self-determination and human rights. After the shocking details of the attacks had become known to the public, in part because of the footage from the portable cameras worn by the terrorists, some of these emotional celebratory statements were corrected. When information began to appear in the media that Hamas had ordered its fighters to kill as many civilians as possible, Hamas’ own leadership started to deny the purposeful killing of civilians, suggesting that people from Gaza who had participated in the attacks who participated in the attacks were to blame for the indiscriminate violence. The killing of civilians by both sides — that is, including by Hamas, — was also condemned by the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. By the end of the first week, it had become abundantly clear that the attack of Israel was not spontaneous, but carefully planned, and that civilians had been deliberately targeted.

And yet, there is a larger problem lurking behind the emotional reaction of some activists: a contradiction between doctrinal positions and moral intuition. For several leftist organizations, it turned out to be impossible to simultaneously criticize Israeli policies in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and to explicitly condemn the mass murder committed by Hamas. Disagreements about this provoked an identity crisis among the ranks of the Democratic Socialists of America. DSA chapters in Connecticut and New York celebrated the attack on Israel as a realization of the right of resistance in anti-colonial struggle, emphasizing that there can’t be “peace on a stolen land”, and that, in a colonial context, there are no civilians. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other DSA members in Congress have called this stance “bigotry and callousness”. On the 10th of October, the organization issued a more moderate statement, without, however, mentioning Hamas.

A more radical stance was adopted by some of the new progressive organizations that had emerged during the 2010s on the rising tide of left populism in the aftermath of the Great Recession. The British journal New Socialist expressed “unconditional solidarity with the people of Palestine, including their right to resist”, failing to distance itself from Hamas even rhetorically. The Progressive International published the Gaza Resolution, condemning the Zionist project as colonial and inherently genocidal and rejecting the “false equivalence of colonizer and colonized”, while recognizing the latter’s right to resist by any means necessary. Verso, the iconic publishing house of the British New Left, published a letter signed by students and academics from U.K. universities, as well as social and union activists, demanding an immediate end to the siege of Gaza and expressing unconditional support for the Palestinian people and its right to resist Zionist settler colonialism.

These organizations’ failure or refusal to openly condemn Hamas and its atrocities sparked some sharp criticism, including from the Israeli left, academics and activists, who have spent years struggling against the blockade of the Gaza Strip and the occupation and settlement of the West Bank. These people largely developed the very arguments used by European and American critics of Israel, who are now failing to express solidarity with them, despite the fact that Israeli peace activists were among the first victims of the terrorists.

Of course, there were also exceptions. The British Trotskyite group Workers’ Liberty unconditionally condemned Hamas, as well as Israel’s policy of “collective punishment” in Gaza, the occupation of the West Bank and settlers’ attacks on the Palestinian communities there. The case of Workers’ Liberty allows us to raise a more general question about how the international left reacted to the October 7th attacks and the war that ensued. Why did a broad consensus fail to appear around the position that the Israeli left justly refers to as consistently leftist: that is, against the oppression of the Palestinians and the occupation of their territories, and at the same time also against the terrorist violence and the killing of civilians committed by Hamas?

For many people on the left (that is, those who believe that an egalitarian and humane society is desirable and possible), Israel represents a flagrant example of the many social ills that are considered to be vestiges of the past, thus making the struggle against them all the more urgent and even morally imperative. Of course, religious nationalism and human rights violations exist not only in Israel; many other modern states have been been founded on ethnic cleansing in some form, while the critique of Israel as a settler colonial project very often comes from pristine settler colonies (like the U.S., Canada or Australia). And yet, some on the left tend to see Israel as The Problem (as Ellen Willis put it) that needs to be solved, compelling a much greater moral, emotional, and intellectual involvement than most of the other, no less dramatic, conflicts in the Middle East and beyond.

Today this view of Israel is especially prevalent among intellectuals and activists involved in a decolonial agenda. However, this hasn’t always been the case. In the first 20 years of its existence, the State of Israel enjoyed the sympathies of social-democratic parties in Europe and the U.S., in part because the injustices faced by the Palestinian people were sidelined and ignored by the international community. The critique of Israel from the left largely focused on Zionism as a form of bourgeois nationalism. The 1967 Six Days War became a turning point. One of its outcomes was the occupation of the West Bank by Israeli forces, which was to become one of the longest military occupations in modern history. The war coincided with the “world revolution” of 1968 (in Immanuel Wallerstein’s formulation), which transformed the very repertoire of left critique, including critiques of Israel. Moving along with the changing ideological tide, since the late 1960s, left critics began targeting Zionism as a form of racism and colonialism.

This historical context is crucial for making sense of the current events. The failure of a broad consensus regarding Hamas’ attacks to materialize has less to do with the alleged antisemitism of the left than with the 50-years’ evolution of the left critique of capitalism and bureaucracy. To better understand this evolution, it’s worth turning to the work of Moishe Postone, whose 2006 paper “History and Helplessness” analyzed a similar episode 20 years ago — the Al Qaeda attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City on September 11, 2001, which some people at the time also interpreted as an act of resistance.

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Postone focuses on how some of the American progressive intellectuals, like Noam Chomsky or Naomi Klein, reacted to September 11. Their argument was that terrorist violence must be analyzed within the context of U.S. policy in the Middle East, treating it as a “reaction of the insulted, injured, and downtrodden, not as an action” (Postone’s italics). Terror is always a response, a reaction; the only entity capable of autonomous action in this worldview is the U.S. According to Postone, such an approach to terrorist violence targeting civilians is deeply problematic, because it ignores the ideology of the terrorist organizations responsible for the attacks. It also ignores the capacity of the leaders of these organizations for long-term, strategic thinking, going well beyond spontaneous outbursts of anger and despair.

To illustrate the importance of ideology, Postone cites Bin Laden’s statements made on October 7, 2001, the start of the American operation in Afghanistan: “What America is tasting now is something insignificant compared to what we have tasted for scores of years. Our nation [the Islamic world] has been tasting this humiliation and this degradation for more than 80 years”. Postone emphasizes the temporal horizon implied by Bin Laden: the degradation of the Islamic world starts in the 1920s, the time of the Turkish War of Independence and the Abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate, long before the establishment of the State of Israel and the active involvement of the U.S. in Middle Eastern politics. In other words, Al Qaeda’s historical and strategic vision goes far beyond what American progressives are willing to allow with their interpretation of Islamic terrorism as a desperate reaction to U.S. imperialism.

The ideology of such movements as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, its Palestinian offshoot, deserves similar scrutiny. Hamas’ stated goal is to destroy the State of Israel and to establish a theocratic dictatorship on the entire territory of historical Palestine. However, the Hamas Covenant, the movement’s main ideological document, emphasizes the global character of its struggle against Zionism:

Today it is Palestine, tomorrow it will be one country or another. The Zionist plan is limitless. After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying.

It is remarkable that Hamas, a militant religious organization that emerged in Gaza in 1987 as a charity under the auspices of the Muslim Brotherhood, refers to the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, the notorious antisemitic pamphlet exposing the Jewish conspiracy, fabricated and published in the Russian Empire in 1903. Israeli policies in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank have clearly contributed to the rise of antisemitism in the Arab world. And yet, just like Al Qaeda, Hamas’ ideological vision goes far beyond the regional conflict between Israel and Palestine, as can be seen already from its reference to the canonical text of European antisemitism.

In Postone’s view, the antisemitic Islamism of Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas is a form of antisystemic ideology in which international Jewry is identified with global capital, and Israel and the U.S. with its agents. This ideology is reactionary in the strict sense, because it opposes capitalist modernity as a whole from the point of view of an imagined past to which it wants to return. Thus, in the “Protocols” referred to by Hamas, the motto of the French Revolution, “liberty, equality, fraternity” is interpreted as a plot to lure the masses into the struggle against natural hierarchies, which the Jews want to be replaced by the hierarchy of money. Sayyid Qutb, the leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, similarly wrote: “[The Jews’] aim is clearly shown by the Protocols [of the Elders of Zion]. The Jews are behind materialism, animal sexuality, the destruction of the family and the dissolution of society. Principal among them are Marx, Freud, Durkheim and the Jew Jean-Paul Sartre”.

In other words, the Islamists have an ideology, in which antisemitism plays an important role alongside anti-Zionism. This alone shows that their activities cannot be treated merely as a reaction to the actions of the U.S. or Israel. The idea that “Israel created Hamas,” increasingly popular on social media, makes the same mistake (as well as ignores contextual complexity). Israeli authorities, especially Benjamin Netanyahu, have for a long time been betting on Hamas as an alternative to the more secular Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to permanently delay the establishment of a fully-fledged Palestinian state: unlike the PLO, Hamas wasn’t interested in any form of peaceful coexistence. Yet the fact that Israeli authorities and security forces tried to use Hamas in their strategic calculations does not explain the genesis and the ideology of this movement, which made it worth betting on for the Israelis in the first place.

Postone says that it’s not enough to recognize that Islamist terrorism cannot be reduced to irrational hatred but has a political character. One must not only analyze the structural conditions that give rise to it, like the socio-economic decline of the Arab world, but also scrutinize the form of politics that directs and gives meaning to indiscriminate violence against civilians. To illustrate the connection between forms of politics and forms of violence, Postone points to the case of the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa. In the 1980s, the ANC leadership was pressured by more radical factions to adopt the tactic of terror against civilians. The radical argument suggested that the Whites would be ready to renounce apartheid only if they would suffer as much as the Blacks did. The ANC Central Committee rejected this argument not only on pragmatic grounds (terror against the Whites would make peaceful coexistence nearly impossible post-apartheid), but also on the basis of a principled political stance, condemning indiscriminate violence.

Examples of the opposite approach to the issue of violence can be found among such organizations as the Irish Republican Army (IRA), Al Qaeda, and Hamas, who consciously adopted the tactic of indiscriminate terror against civilians as part of their political strategies. Postone notes that, as different from the classical national liberation movements, these newer movements refused to distinguish between military personnel and civilians, relying on a reified opposition of friends and foes. Even phrased using the language of anticolonial struggle (e.g., as a struggle between the “settlers” and “natives”), this opposition remains essentialist (when do settlers ever become natives?) and excludes the possibility of a political compromise and peaceful coexistence in the future. Postone emphasizes the centrality of the concept of identity to such movements, which allows calling them identitarian or radically nationalist, broadly conceived. For him, the left’s reaction to the September 11th attacks can be explained by its failure to distinguish between two forms of armed struggle, one of which rejects and the other of which affirms indiscriminate violence.

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The origins of this confusion lay in the 1960s and 1970s, when nonviolent resistance and social change ceased to be the political priorities of the New Left, having been replaced by the armed struggle. One symptom of this shift was the support by some fractions of the European New Left of such organizations as the IRA or the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which went hand in hand with a growing interest in the idea of violent resistance to oppression, inspired by a certain reading of Franz Fanon. This was a radical view of violence as an act of cleansing and redemption, in which the subject transforms itself, severing the ties with bourgeois morals. From this point of view, violence was conceived not simply as a means of emancipation but as emancipatory in and of itself.

Postone writes that the idea of the inherently emancipatory character of violence removed the question of revolution from the agenda, understood as a fundamental social transformation. In this way, the idea of resistance replaced revolution as the horizon of the left’s political imagination. As different from revolution, the concept of resistance lacks reflexivity:

The notion of resistance frequently expresses a deeply dualistic worldview that tends to reify both the system of domination and the idea of agency. It is rarely based on a reflexive analysis of possibilities for fundamental change that are both generated and suppressed by a dynamic heteronomous order. In that sense it lacks reflexivity. It is an undialectical category that does not grasp its own conditions of possibility; that is, it fails to grasp the dynamic historical context of which it is a part. Relatedly, it blurs important distinctions between politically very different forms of violence.

The notion of resistance is indifferent to the object of resistance, and tends to reduce the changing and complex historical realities to reified abstractions like global imperialism or settler colonialism. Nor is it able to reflect on the relation between forms of politics and forms of violence in its own practice. The fetishization of resistance is the root cause of the fatal ambiguity on the question of indiscriminate violence.

In his critique of the notion of resistance, Postone relies on an earlier analysis of the political practice of the Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF), whose adherence to urban guerrilla tactics he treats as an attempt to substitute politics with a certain variety of existentialism. Armed resistance offered a promise of life full of meaning and became an end in itself for the RAF and similar groups. Yet the moral justification of urban guerrilla tactics as a reaction to the primary violence of the system of oppression does not abolish the need to formulate one’s own political aims, whose achievement will purportedly be helped by the armed struggle.

For Postone, the inability to formulate a self-conscious political program turned urban guerrillas into an instrument of other movements, who did have such a program, in particular, the PFLP, whose aim was to fight Israel using terrorist tactics. The participation of the German radicals in the Palestinian terrorism of the 1970s was strategically ineffective, because it strengthened the Israeli right, and politically dubious, because it relied on the logic of identity and indiscriminate violence. Having hijacked the Airbus A300 flight from Tel Aviv to Paris operated by Air France, terrorists from the PFLP and the German organization Revolutionary Cells released only those hostages who did not have Israeli citizenship or Jewish surnames, thus revealing the identitarian foundation of their politics. Israel’s response was not to hold political negotiations but a counter-terrorism operation that was supported by the international community.

Postone explains the changes in the understanding of violence by the New Left at the turn of the 1970s in terms of two tendencies. The first tendency was the growing influence of a critique of capitalism that focused on the problem of alienation (sociologists Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello called it “artistic critique”). Alienation was understood as the impossibility of authentic existence and individual autonomy in a society governed by instrumentally rational bureaucracy run by faceless technocrats. This diagnosis was applicable to post-war capitalism in Europe and the U.S., as well as to the Soviet Union and its satellites. The second tendency Postone pointed to was the uncritical identification of certain factions of the Western New Left with anti-imperialist and anticolonial movements in the Third World, who were supported without much scrutiny of their political programs. Within this context, according to Postone, “violence became seen as a nonreified, cleansing force erupting from the outside, identified now as the colonized, attacking the very foundations of the existing order”.

Taking this analysis one step further, the left’s glorification of violence can be seen as the dark side of the artistic critique of capitalism, a side effect of the “world revolution” of 1968. In Wallerstein’s formulation, “the primary protest of 1968 was against U.S. hegemony in the world-system (and Soviet acquiescence in that hegemony)”, against both capitalism and the traditional forms and agents of its critique embodied by the Old Left. This critique, focused on economic exploitation and inequality, was supplemented in two ways. On the one hand, by the critique of racial and gender oppression, previously considered of secondary importance relative to the demands of the workers’ and national liberation movements. On the other hand, by the critique of alienation and bureaucratization, previously circumscribed to narrow artistic and intellectual circles. The intensification of the critique of capitalism in the 1960s and 1970s did not lead to the breakdown of the system but transformed it. As shown by Boltanski and Chiapello, capitalism survived but changed, becoming more inclusive and less hierarchical. Capitalist corporations developed diversity and inclusion policies, while management consultants adopted the language of the revolutionary students of 1968, speaking about how autonomy in the workplace is conducive for innovation and creativity.

This critical impulse energized capitalism, making participation in the accumulation of capital attractive and exciting for new groups of potential employees and managers. By the latter part of the 1970s, partial satisfaction of the demands voiced by the artistic critique made it possible to reinterpret the 1968 protests as demanding opportunities for self-realization, the softening of hierarchies, and the expansion of access to corporate careers and capitalist prosperity. The turn to flexible employment and networked forms of organization disarmed the social critique of capitalism that had been targeting hierarchical firms and failed to see that the price for workers’ increased autonomy was exacerbated exploitation. The social critique was even further marginalized, because its organizational carriers, the Old Left and the countries of “really existing” socialism, did not quite recover from the damage the artistic critique had done to them.

Boltanski suggests that the main ideological outcome of 1968 was the rejection of the “longing for revolution”, understood in the sense of a transformation of the relations of production and fundamental social change, by the anti-capitalist left, and the parallel radicalization of the struggle against other forms of oppression, not directly related to capitalism. Postone describes this shift as the “turn to the concrete”: absent a large emancipatory project, the disoriented anti-systemic movements focused on the most immediate and visible forms of oppression — military and police violence, drifting politically towards particularism and nationalism. As noted by Georgii Derluguian, the most threatening anti-systemic movements of today are reactionary: ideologically, they rely on a mix of xenophobic nationalism, religious fundamentalism, and nostalgia for lost ethnic and gender privileges, while borrowing the organizational and discursive tactics of the 1968 protests. Like the left groups committed to violent resistance and indiscriminate violence, these reactionary movements are sorely lacking a realistic vision of their own victory: “no one knows… how to achieve any successful revolutionary or reactionary outcome and how it would work in the event of a victory over the ‘system’”.

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In the 1970s, the “turn to concrete” made possible an alliance between European radicals inspired by the idea of armed resistance, and nationalist movements practicing indiscriminate violence. The consequences of this shift, at times paradoxical, can be observed to this day. Just days after the October 7th tragedy, an image circulated on social media depicting two teams in a tug of war: one side, under Israeli flag, the other, under the flags of Hamas and LGBTQ+. Memes like this mock the emotional statements of individual activists who acted on their political instincts and celebrated the attacks as an inspiring instance of decolonial struggle, without full knowledge of the atrocities committed by Hamas. Yet their appearance is by no means coincidental and should be taken seriously: after all, in its official communication, Hamas describes itself as a movement of resistance to settler colonialism. Comparing the antisemitic Islamism of Hamas and decolonial identity politics may sound scandalous but both could be seen as versions of Postone’s “turn to the concrete.”

The slogan “decolonization is not a metaphor” is a characteristic example of the “turn to the concrete.” It has recently achieved some political prominence, being endorsed in the Declaration of Progressive International. The origins of the phrase are to be found in the eponymous 2012 academic paper, criticizing the impoverished and abstract notion of decolonization that has become fashionable in academia and artistic circles (as in the expressions like “decolonizing methods” or “decolonizing education”). The authors argued that this “metaphorization of decolonization” is a tool of the “settlers” to “reconcile settler guilt and complicity” while retaining inherited privileges. However, beyond academia, their call not to treat decolonization metaphorically was itself taken literally. For example, the journalist Najma Sharif, commenting on the Hamas’ attacks of Israel, sarcastically noted that decolonization does not mean vibes or essays; “losers” who think otherwise should suggest their own, purportedly nonviolent, model for decolonization.

The turn to violence often means a failure of political imagination. This is true of the policy of Israeli right that has been treating the Palestinians and their claims to statehood as a permanent security risk, rather than a political question to be resolved politically. According to Postone, the temporal coincidence of the glorification of violence and the disorientation of anti-systemic movements is symptomatic of the overall crisis of faith in the efficacy of political action: “In a historical situation of heightened helplessness, violence both expressed the rage of helplessness and helped suppress such feelings of helplessness.” Right now, this conclusion seems to apply to the observers and commentators even more than it is to the subjects of what is being described as armed resistance. Violent resistance appears as an apotheosis of action, which is explicitly or implicitly opposed to political work, as well as intellectual and artistic activities (the papers and essays despised by Sharif), and at the same time expresses a sense of extreme helplessness.

The fascination with resistance as the ultimate action, combined with campist thinking and radical virtue signaling turns critical theory into an instrument for essentialization of the Other, degenerating into a shameless apology of terrorist violence under the slogans of armed resistance and that “settlers are not civilians”. This rhetoric is based on the assumption of fixed identities of both sides of the conflict, reducing its complexity to the Manichean view of the struggle of colonizers and colonized, “settlers” and “natives,” between whom there cannot be any “moral equivalence.”

Of course, such a justification for indiscriminate violence works both ways. If Israeli civilians are legitimate targets simply because they belong to “Zionist settler colonialism,” allegedly destined to oppress, occupy, and commit genocide, then Gazan civilians can also be proclaimed terrorists on the grounds that 17 years ago (!) Hamas won the elections there and, after the Palestinian Authority failed to remove it from power, established a dictatorship. The same identitarian logic is at play in the arguments blaming all Russians, who are now living under a military despotism, for the crimes of the Putin’s regime, if not for the centuries-long Russian imperialism. Such arguments have little in common with the genuinely left politics that is universalist, egalitarian, and humanistic. In reality, those supporting armed decolonization by any means necessary and for any price are closer to the right nationalists, who are currently busy exposing leftist conspiracies on American campuses.

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Five years prior to the publication of Postone’s essay, the Russian Marxist Alexander Tarasov analyzed the same problematic, noting that the sympathies of the Western left to Islamist radicals as alleged allies in the struggle against U.S. imperialism are rooted in the sense of helplessness in the face of globalization:

[I]t makes no sense to ecstatically embrace Islamic radicals, because they are nothing more than the militant wing of Islamic fundamentalism. And Islamic fundamentalism, like any religious fundamentalism, is a reactionary force, that is, if you like, extreme right-wing… Islamic fundamentalism in this sense is no different from fascism. The “Islamic revolution” is just as much a competitor to the social revolution as the “national revolution” (Tarasov’s italics).

Reactionary anti-systemic and conservative systemic forces do not clash for the first time: it happened before during the period of the two world wars. Like their predecessors, the current opponents of hegemony — whether Hamas, the Islamic Republic of Iran, or, if one is to believe its ideologists, Putin’s Russia — don’t offer even a hint of an emancipatory project. Like then, the lack of a progressive alternative is not an excuse for betting on the reactionary forces that challenge hegemony: doing so would amount to merely replacing “socialism” with “anti-imperialism” or “decolonization” in Kautsky’s famous formula.

Otherwise, political mistakes will be inevitable, like the characterization of Hamas and Hezbollah as parts of the global left simply because they oppose the global order, personified by their stated enemies: the U.S. and Israel. To prevent such mistakes, it is useful to critically revise the conceptual foundations of one’s political analysis, as well as to have the courage to call things by their names: that Hamas’ political project, an Islamic theocracy on the entire territory of the historical Palestine, “from the river to the sea,” not only contradicts the goals of Palestinian self-determination, but also directly threatens both peoples. It is a threat to those Palestinians who do not want to live under religious dictatorship, and to all Israelis, regardless of their ethnicity or faith. On October 7, Hamas killed Israeli Arabs as well Israeli Jews and foreign citizens.
Uncritical identification with anti-systemic movement practicing indiscriminate violence turned European radicals of the 1970s into “inverted nationalists” (in Postone’s formulation). Now like then, those who fetishize of violent resistance and project their decolonial phantasies on Islamist terrorism will end up supporting “movements and regimes that have much more in common with earlier reactionary — even fascist — forms of rebellion than they do with anything we can call progressive.”

Towards a Left Critique of Indiscriminate Violence