“False right-wing ideas and the wrong critique of them Ruthless Criticism

from GSP 4-18

A letter:

“False right-wing ideas and the wrong critique of them”

I would like to refer to a lecture you held titled “Wrong right-wing thinking and the incorrect criticism of it.” The lecture begins with the announcement that “citizens’ concerns” should really be “taken seriously.” The various sayings and slogans should then be seriously examined for their truthfulness. This was done as if sayings such as: “foreigners take away our jobs,” “foreigners increase the crime rate in the country” or “foreigners get everything – we get nothing” were actually complaints about stolen jobs, crime, or government neglect. But they aren’t!

When a woman says she is afraid to go downtown at night now because all of a sudden there are (more) immigrants there, then it’s idiotic to tell her that there are German criminals too. If someone says that foreigners take jobs away from Germans (“us”), then it is stupid to explain to them who it is who actually creates, contracts, or cuts jobs.

These people just want to say that foreigners do not belong in Germany, so they have no “right” to be in Germany, much less to lead a bourgeois life. But the premise of the lecture acts as if these statements come not from the prejudices German patriots have against non-Germans – especially from Islamic, Eastern European, and other poverty stricken countries – but instead from ignorance about employment, social envy, or a lacking awareness of German criminality.

Also, the so-called logic – “there are migrants who are criminals, so migrants are criminals” – is incorrect. It’s the other way around: xenophobes have already arrived at the judgment that migrants are criminals. If a crime is committed by a migrant, all they have to do is point their finger at it or post it on Facebook with the comment: “I've been telling you this the whole time!”

In view of this judgment (one has long known that migrants don’t fit in in Germany, so they don’t belong here), the question whether one really envies the way migrants are treated is polemical and thus completely unhelpful for clarifying the real situation. Instead of showing somebody that she hates migrants because she is deluded about who has a right and who does not have a right to live here, you show this person that the help given to migrants isn’t very nice. This person has never claimed that. This person has claimed that migrants are not entitled to help.

I would be interested to hear your opinion. Do you think I am right or do you think the approach in the lecture is ok?

Reply from the editors

We gather from your description of our lecture that you did not understand what was intended and demonstrated by the “approach.” You were obviously expecting a treatise on what right-wing radicals are for, why they have such nasty and hateful ideas about immigrants – a lecture whose quintessence you already know and brought with you in the version: “because they are deluded about who has a right and who does not have a right to live here.” This expectation was disappointed; and that’s a good thing too. We did not intend to explain the origin of radical right-wing judgments whose falsehood and bias were assumed – “between us” – to be self-evident. By the way, we did not want to triumph in a rhetorical showdown with the representatives of such views, but to criticize them. To do that, it would simply be pointless not to take them seriously for what they are: wrong judgments about the world – in all the points we focused on.

You think it’s a waste of time – “idiotic”, “stupid” – because “these people” with their sayings about migrants and jobs or crime “just want to say that migrants don’t belong in Germany, so have no ‘right’ ... to lead a bourgeois life.” The latter is how it is. But referring to lost jobs or a crime wave serves such “people” as an argument for why migrants are not entitled to such a “right.” Should one simply ignore this in keeping with the slogan: they only mean “refugees out!”? One does not have to promise an instant and resounding success by proving that the argument does not lead to the conclusion that is doubtlessly intended. Does that make it superfluous – and “stupid” – to show that the connection between migrants and lost jobs or criminality overlooks everything that everyone, including right-wingers, knows from their experience as members of a bourgeois competitive society and law-based community? All you have to do is remember that even a lot of people who are not in any way radical right-wingers are affected by such mental blackouts and prefer to resort to apologies – “but only a few of them are criminals”, “they don’t take that many jobs away, but only the ones that Germans don’t want,” etc.: all that’s needed is to remind these grumbling people of what they already know – and of how foolish, i.e. wrong, it is to view the hardships of working life as a question of guilt or the workings of the system of competition as the intrusions of competitors, or to blame “aliens” when private individuals descend into violence, as if it were a peculiarity of theirs rather than a permanent feature of bourgeois life, even though it is a forbidden exception. This is the only way to get not merely to the allegation, but also the clear conclusion that the basis for xenophobic judgments and attitudes is not some forgiveable mistake or wrong statistic, but a righteousness which presents itself in a way that does not follow from a correct assessment of living conditions, but is illustrated and justified by citations from bourgeois daily life. So if – among everyone, not just open nationalists – the effects of capitalist competition or the welfare state’s support for the poor are lumped together with the foreignness of people who suffer under the same effects yet in a different way – and because the labor market or the welfare state also puts foreigners in some of the very same living conditions, then we think that making a proper distinction between the two is sorely needed. It is needed to irritate any patriots potentially ruminating in their xenophobia; to dissuade potentially reflective opponents of xenophobia from incorrect, appeasing counterarguments; and mainly to make clear to oneself the righteousness of xenophobic citizens and to pursue the question of what kind of worldview is operating here and how it happens that otherwise kind-hearted family men are capable of bashing people, ideally and even in reality, because they seem foreign to them.

Of course, such a distinction does not require any lessons about the political economy of the modern workplace or about the connection between the claims of bourgeois righteousness and crime. What is needed, however, is, as mentioned, criticism of the reasons that xenophobes like to express in the form of slogans for their viewpoint – and which, incidentally, are also well understood by all the well-meaning fellow citizens who attest to the xenophobes’ “fear of losing social status” as a good reason for their attitude. It would certainly be “stupid” to expect that one could thereby loosen up a political attitude that has already solidified into a practical feeling But if someone wants to make clear to oneself, and to anybody who might listen, what one is up against, the kind of incorrect worldview that has to be explained here, it seems to us that destroying the judgments in which this worldview expresses itself is indispensable. There is no other way for anyone – even you! – to get closer to a well-founded judgement about the affirmative view of the bourgeois state that takes the particular form of not wanting to tolerate the presence of foreigners.

However, we don’t just want to help you better understand the “approach” of the lecture you attended, but also to criticize your suggested alternative. One would, you think, “have to show somebody that she hates foreigners because she is deluded about who has a right and who does not have a right to live here...” First of all, you leave open how such a “proof” should begin, or could begin at all, other than by dismantling the arguments put forward by the “somebody.” You act as if right-wing attitudes have nothing to do with the wrong judgments about the world that they shout in their slogans. So, secondly, the “proof” you think needed is limited to a very abstract summary of the righteousness you think a right-wing radical is going to have, wherever it may come from and for whatever reason, and labeling this consciousness “deluded.” This evidently is enough to assure you that the right-wing standpoint is perverse and unfounded. Hence you propose – as if this would be a suitable way of criticizing false consciousness – confronting it with the unfounded advice that it is not good. We, in any case, take a dim view of this type of “approach.”