Category Archives: Luther

The Enmity Movements

Dr. Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945)
German Minister of Enlightenment and Propaganda
One of man’s most persistent traits is hate.  Is it an “instinct” and absolutely universal in the human species, or is but a response to frustration, as the “frustration-aggression” theorists would have it ?  While varying in degree and type among cultures and individuals, one would be hard put to find humans altogether without it.

It also seems clear that certain groups and individuals seem to have more than their share.  In fact — and this is the subject of this blog posting — there are organized movements that specialize in the theory and practice of fostering enmity and hate.  The historical examples are of course clear:  pre-eminent among them are the totalitarian movements of the last century.  But I will not focus on these here.  Instead, I propose to turn attention to some examples in contemporary America.First, some preliminary observations.

World literature has some outstanding haters, and it would seem that the enmity groups of today have been inspired by these, at least in part.  (I have looked in vain for something like a history of vituperation among the famous writers of the past, but,  as far as I can detect, a book like that is no more than a desideratum.) Some of the great haters of the past include, at a minimum, Martin Luther, Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, and Adolf Hitler.

Hatred against Jews is prominent among historical hatreds, but it is not the only such enmity that is captured in the great literature of the past.  Be that as it may, in the case of Luther and Marx (and of course Hitler), it plays an outstanding role.

As to Luther, according to Wikipedia:

Luther describes Jews as a “base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and their boast of lineage,circumcision, and law must be accounted as filth.”[1] Luther wrote that they are “full of the devil‘s feces … which they wallow in like swine,”[2] and the synagogue is an “incorrigible whore and an evil slut”.[3]

And here is Karl Marx:

Let us consider the actual, worldly Jew – not the Sabbath Jew, as Bauer does, but the everyday Jew.
Let us not look for the secret of the Jew in his religion, but let us look for the secret of his religion in the real Jew.
What is the secular basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money.
Very well then! Emancipation from huckstering and money, consequently from practical, real Judaism, would be the self-emancipation of our time.

Most of the descriptive literature of these classic haters mentions their violent, vituperative, vitriolic polemical style.  But this style is usually considered as no more than an aspect of the particular issues of the time.  I think that it deserves a treatment all of its own.  I think that this style, in its radical disregard of the personhood of its targets, often seeks no less than the physical annihilation of enemies.  Wishing the death of opponents, and the attempted and sometimes accomplished murder, are fairly common features of the hate groups, as we shall see.

When we come to enmity groups in contemporary America, it would seem that certain religious and political sects give us the most conspicuous examples.  None of these groups are very large, but neither are they, in their totality, too insignificant to deserve attention.  (There are also enmity groups that cannot easily be described as either religious or political — e.g. Scientology and the Larouche cult — for which there are ample descriptions on the internet.)

The Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka is perhaps the most extreme example that one can find of an enmity group.   Their in-the-face hate picketing in various parts of the country — “God Hates America,” “God Hates Israel,” “Fags Eat Poop,” — give the impression of parody, but that does not seem to be the intention.  Their latest antic was to declare that “God Sent the Shooter” at the funeral of Sandy Hook victims.

Not all groups that start out as hate groups remain so forever.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses of the 1930’s certainly promoted enmity.  Their favorite slogan — “Religion is a Snare and a Racket” — was used by them to shock Catholics.  On one occasion, June 25, 1939, there was a bloody brawl between JW members and those of another hate group, Charles Coughlin’s  Christian Front.  These combative years of the Witnesses seem to have been confined to those of J. F. Rutherford undisputed leadership (1917-1942).

A number of other religious sects have enmity practices that are mostly internal:  one faction opposes another, using extreme verbal violence that sometimes becomes physical assault.  We have such reports regarding Satmar Hasidim and occasionally other Hasidic groupings.  And back in 1933, the American-Armenian Archbishop Leon Tourian was assassinated in New York by members of an opposing Armenian faction.  And so forth.

One religious enmity group, or rather a set of such groupings, are known as the Closed Brethren divisions of the larger Plymouth Brethren movement.  These Closed Brethren, best described by the late Bryan R. Wilson in a series of publications, have now been with us for almost two hundred years.  Their history is one of holier-than-thou and mutually antagonistic grouplets, marked by excommunications, shunning, and extremely hateful language toward one another.  The fact that their numerous antagonisms concern mainly their inner politics, and also the fact that — as far as I know — there have been no reported cases of physical violence, would explain why these people have not generally attracted the attention of mainline media.

Coming now to the more political enmity groups, there are of course the classic haters like the Ku Klux Klan, the neo-Nazis, etc.  Their hatreds are well documented and obvious, and need no more discussion here.

The old American Communist Party, on the other hand, is not conventionally classed as a hate group.  And perhaps, if it were not for the excellent writings of some ex-Communists, most of us would simply not know about the culture of enmity in the old CP, i.e. in the years of its virulence, roughly from 1930 to 1960.  (The Party today is of course but a pale shadow of its past, and I do not discuss its current situation here.)

The historian Aileen S. Kraditor, having spent about a decade in the CP beginning in 1947, published her remarkable book “‘Jimmy Higgins’, The Mental World of the American Rank – and – File Communist” in 1988.  No other work, to my knowledge, has given us as much detailed and insightful information about the Party’s internal atmosphere of hatred, which was directed as much against perceived “renegades” as against the ostensible main enemy, capitalism. Kraditor devotes her fourth chapter specifically to “the rationale of hate” in the Party, a hatred which, from time to time, explicitly called for the death of opponents.   And she quotes from a 1937 article in a party journal:

It is from Marx we inherit the quality of fierce partisanship rising from objective historic analysis ;  his writings live today not as disembodied , cold philosophy, but, because of their intensive scientific objectivity, bright with the fires of hatred for the oppressors, which is but the other aspect of love for the working class and its vanguard.

The old CP is dead, more or less, but Marxist-Leninist enmity promotion still lives in America. It seems most virulent today in a group that had been a prime target of Stalinist hatreds, the Trotskyists.

Now as ever, Trotskyism is divided into numerous quarreling little sects, much like the Esclusive Brethren mentioned above.  Many of these groupuscules have been around for years, others arise and fall because of splits and mergers, and some seem to die due to pure exhaustion.  But there is one group, the International Socialist Organization, that, more than any of the others, seems to show signs of energy at the moment.

The ISO is “Cliffite,” e.g. it adheres to that branch of Trotskyism that was founded by the late Tony Cliff of the British Socialist Workers Party.  Unlike most of the other Trotskyist groups, the Cliffites did not defend the Soviet Union as a “workers state,” insisting, instead, that it was marked by “state capitalism.”  But while it was thus more reasonable in regard to Stalinism, Cliffism has been,  at some distance, the most rejectionist about Israel in this overall anti-Israel group of organizations:  for the Cliffite groups that there is no right of Israel to exist, no matter how tiny its borders. The issue is discussed here by one of the SWP”s Trotskyist rivals in Britain, Workers Liberty.

The verbal violence of the ISO is remarkable, certainly for a post-Stalinist organization.  Here is a video of an ISO meeting last year in Chicago


ISO’s Comrade Sherry Wolf tells us that she wants to “piss on Reagan’s grave” (see below at 33:24)

Over in England, the Cliffites have a friend and collaborator in the House of Commons, the Honourable Gentleman from Bradford West,  Mr. George Galloway.  Here he appears at a debate at Oxford, February, 2013

Finally, we have a talk on the website of the New York ISO branch that features Ms. Lannis Deek, an Arab-American lawyer and supporter of Hamas,  in which she claims that “Zionists” like David Ben Gurion have advocated and practiced the cold-blooded, indiscriminate murder of Palestinians:

Comrade Deek purports to cite Ben Gurion.  I have been unable to receive a reply from her when I inquired about the source of this alleged quotation.  The text is, however, listed in a compendium of false “Zionist” quotations that has been made available by CAMERA.  Comrade Deek is a member of the NY State Bar, whose Rules of Professional Conduct (Rule 8.4(c)) prohibit a lawyer, ISO member or not, from  “[engaging] in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.” She may wish to review these Rules.

The history of enemy groups — which I have tried to sketch from Martin Luther to, if you will excuse me, Lannis Deek — is obviously part of our tradition, and is unlikely to end in our times.  I offer these comments in the hope that a greater understanding of such groups will help to mitigate the harm that they do.

See also

The Language of Hate: Animal Attributions

The Trotskyist Movement’s Changing Positions on Israel

Truths and Lies — The Language of Hate, ct’d.

Pravda [‘The Truth’], Central Organ, Communist Party of the Soviet Union

“Werner, you LIE,” a gentleman screamed at me, at everyone, at a faculty meeting some years ago. The screamer was someone I had known for years, and our children were friends. But he was a leftist, and I was not, and he didn’t like my opinions on an issue that he construed as political.

I must say that I was startled even though I knew then as I know now that to extremists anyone who disagrees tends to be a “liar.” Professor Noam Chomsky has been pleased to call me a “liar” and a “pathological liar,” both in print and in private correspondence. The accusation that an enemy is a “liar” is also commonplace in Nazi and Communist propaganda. Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf speaks of Jews as liars as if that is no more than to be expected (p. 324 in the Manheim translation). Vladimir Lenin, the founder of Bolshevik Communism in this respect as in so many others, speaks of the “renegade Kautsky” as not only stupid and venal but also, and not least, a liar. (“The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky,” originally published in 1918, is available, for instance, in The Lenin Anthology, ed. by Robt. C. Tucker, 1975).

Seldom are there mistaken opinions in the world of extremism; opinions tend to be either “correct” or outright lies. In the current debates on the Iraq war, the Left has concluded that “Bush Lied, People Died.” Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post has pointed out the factual difficulties with this proposition, but whatever the factual basis or lack thereof, complex political questions, to people who are not extremists, can seldom be reduced to a simple question of truth versus lie.

Martin Luther in 1520.
Portrait by Lucas Cranach the Elder

Before Hitler and Lenin, even before Professor Noam Chomsky, it was Martin Luther who castigated those he hated as “liars;” Chomsky and these others can justly be considered latter-day Lutherans in this respect.

Luther’s 1543 work “On the Jews and their Lies” is described as follows in Wikipedia:

In the treatise, Luther writes that the Jews are a “base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and their boast of lineage, circumcision, and law must be accounted as filth.”[1] They are full of the “devil’s feces … which they wallow in like swine,”[2] and the synagogue is an “incorrigible whore and an evil slut …”[3] He argues that their synagogues and schools be set on fire, their prayer books destroyed, rabbis forbidden to preach, homes razed, and property and money confiscated. They should be shown no mercy or kindness,[4] afforded no legal protection,[5] and these “poisonous envenomed worms” should be drafted into forced labor or expelled for all time.[6] He also seems to advocate their murder, writing “[w]e are at fault in not slaying them.”[7]

Most later commentators have pointed to a continuity from Luther’s thought to that of the Nazis and modern anti-Semitism, though there is, of course, a crucial difference: Luther did not not seem to have a concept of “race” in his animosity toward the Jews. On the other hand, it is noteworthy that there are anti-Semitic sites on the internet today that promote Luther’s book and make it available to the public.

But whatever the genealogy of modern anti-Semitism, which is not our concern here, it would seem that Luther — so influential in the development of modern Germanic languages — must be counted as one of the fathers of today’s use of “lie” and “truth” in the arsenal of vituperation.

This Lutheran use of the couplet “truth” and “lie” confounds two usages of the terms, both of which are common, but which are usually kept apart.

1. The most ordinary meaning of “truth — lie” is descriptive. “The dog ate my homework,” assuming he did not, is a lie. “I never did my homework,” assuming that in fact I did not, is the truth. I will call this the secular-rational meaning.

2. The second meaning of the couplet comes to us from sacred scripture. A clear example is in John 14-6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Here “truth” is not so much descriptive as it is an affirmation of faith. Jehovah’s Witnesses, speaking to one another, might ask “how long have you been in the truth ?”. This is their way of asking for the length of adherence to the JW organization. ( Lynn D. Newton has compiled a glossary of Jehovah’s Witness in-speech.) Similarly, “lie” is not a statement that is contrary to fact but is rather an attribute of the devil:

Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father it is your will to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and standeth not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father thereof. (John 8-44)

This second meaning is religious, emotive, non-rational. There is no problem in understanding this usage in a religious context, which is its natural home. But the problem with the Marxists and other extremists is that they do not provide the context in their polemics to signal clearly their non-rational meanings in their use of “truth — lie.” It would seem that these polemicists and propagandists are not themselves aware of the confusion. Their world is made up of virtue and evil, as is that of the sacred scriptures, rather than of truth and untruth in any empirical sense. Such propagandists, even when professors at prestigious universities, seem to simply confound truth with virtue (as they see virtue), untruth with evil (as they construe evil). Their mental life is different from that of people who engage in rational debate.