© Michel Fingerhut 1996/7

Pierre Vidal-Naquet:
Theses on Revisionism (4)
Translated by Jeffrey Mehlman in Assassins of Memory (NY: Columbia University Press 1992), English translation copyright 1992 Columbia University Press
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We are very grateful to Pierre Vidal-Naquet and his american publisher, Columbia University Press, for allowing us to make this text available here.

4. On an Explosive Mixture

Let us return to the geography of revisionism and raise the question of its political and intellectual bearing. I do not dispose of all the necessary elements, and the few hypotheses I shall formulate are of necessity tentative and schematic. Several markers can nevertheless be established. Two countries dominate --by far-- revisionist production: Germany and the United States. In the first, such books are numerous and enjoy a certain success if one may judge from the reprintings a number of them have gone through. They are tightly bound to a specific milieu: an extreme right-wing that sees itself as heir to Nazism and dreams of its rehabilitation.

Revisionism in the strict sense has not won any adepts in the extreme or ultra-left, or very few. Small terrorist groups, to be sure, have made the transition from anti-Zionism and aid to the Palestinian liberation movement to outright anti-Semitism, but without invoking the revisionist argument.[57] The declaration of the German terrorist Ulrike Meinhof is often quoted: "Six million Jews were killed and thrown onto the dungheap of Europe because they were money-Jews (Geldjuden ).[58] Reading that statement in context, one sees that it is but a variation on the theme of Bebel's formula: "Anti- Semitism is the socialism of fools." It remains that a transition is possible and has occasionally occurred.

In the United States, revisionism is above all the specialty of a Californian group, W. A. Carto's Liberty Lobby, which draws on venerable and solid anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist, and anti-black traditions and also draws --or attempts to-- on the nationalism of Americans of Germanic origin.[59] It does not appear that gestures toward libertarians, despite the patronage of H. E. Barnes, have met with much success.[60] In academic and intellectual circles, a work like Arthur Butz's is almost completely unknown.[61]

In several countries, on the contrary, revisionism is the specialty not of the racist and anti-Semitic extreme right, but of several groups of individuals coming from the extreme left. This is the case in Sweden following the intervention on Robert Faurisson's behalf of the extreme left-wing sociologist Jan Myrdal, whose intervention was on behalf not merely of the man but, in part, of his ideas;[62] in Australia, following the action of the former secretary of the Victorian Council for Civil Liberties, John Bennett;[63] and even in Italy, where a small Marxist libertarian group invokes its debt to Paul Rassinier.[64]

And yet it is the French case that seems the most interesting and complex. Let us observe first of all this curious fact: to the extent that the international press has dealt with the revisionist problem, discussion, over the last three years, has centered on the case of Robert Faurisson. It was on his behalf that Noam Chomsky wrote a text that served as a preface to one of his books;[65] and it was on the basis of his "theses" that newspapers the world over, in Germany as in America, published the most detailed analyses.[66] This observation is all the more surprising in that in those two countries there were and still are revisionists of greater stature than Faurisson.

Not that his revisionism was of a particularly daunting sort. His originality has consisted in posing the problem on a strictly technical level. And even in that domain, he owes a lot to Butz. Certain of his formulations that provoked scandals were in reality mere translations or adaptations of German texts.[67]

To be sure, Faurisson's social status, that of a university professor in a large city, in a country in which such credentials afford one access to the media more readily than elsewhere; his native talent for scandal, which is longstanding; the lawsuits brought against him;[68] and the presentation of his work by an honorable sociologist, Serge Thion,[69] have all played a role. It is equally remarkable that whereas in England, the country that invented freedom of the press, revisionists have not had access to the popular press,[70] in France, in certain liberal or libertarian dailies (Le Monde, Libération ), there have appeared the rudiments of a debate, with the reader occasionally being left with the impression that he is dealing with two equally valid positions between which one might very well hesitate.[71]

Like other countries, France has always known --and still does know-- a neo-Nazi tendency, symbolized by Maurice Bardèche and his journal, Défense de l'Occident, and recently revived by the New Right. Revisionist themes were featured in it very early on.[72] With Paul Rassinier (1906-1967), a communist, then a socialist, a deportee to Buchenwald and to Dora, a lifelong anticolonialist, but a friend of Bardèche and a writer for Rivarol, we are dealing with something else: the alliance of a pacifist and libertarian extremist left and an unabashedly Hitlerian extreme right.[73] Anti-Semitism, intimately connected, in this case, with anti-Zionism, constitutes the bridge between the two. That alliance would be renewed in the next generation through the dissemination accorded revisionist positions in general and Faurisson's positions in particular by the Marxist group La Vieille Taupe and several adjacent ones (La Guerre Sociale, La Jeune Taupe, etc).[74]

What is the political aim of this group, an aim in large part facilitated by the sacralization of the Jewish people over a period of several decades, by the belated remorse that gripped the West afer the discovery of the great slaughter, and consequently by the protection the Israeli venture has enjoyed --even in its most debatable aspects? The central theme is perfectly clear: it is a matter of shattering the antifascist consensus resulting from the Second World War and sealed by the revelation of the extermination of the Jews. To the mind of the extreme left, the importance of Nazi crimes should be diminished and the guilt of the West and of the communist world augmented in order to reveal a common oppression.[75]

What would be needed, in brief, would be to change enemies. Is this completely unprecedented? Such ideologies have roots in France. At the end of the nineteenth century, the liberal consensus united peasants, workers, and bourgeois republicans in a common hostility to the "feudal" landholding aristocracy. Edouard Drumont, the author of La France juive [Jewish France ], who was a great man and an important sociologist in the eyes of more than one socialist,[76] also proposed a shift of enemies: no longer the lord's castle, with its torture chambers, but the mysterious lair where the Jew developed his riches with Christian blood. And he lashed out at official history: "The French historical school," wrote Drumont, "once again has passed by all this without seeing it, despite investigatory techniques it claims to have invented. It paused naively before dungeons that, according to Viollet-le-Duc himself, were latrines, before in-pace that were cellars; it did not enter the mysterious sacrificarium, the den more bloody than Bluebeard's, in which the childlike victims of Semitic superstition lie bloodless, their veins parched."[77] A strange alliance indeed . . .

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