Alberto Toscano is Term Research Associate Professor at the School of Communications at Simon Fraser University and Professor of Critical Theory at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he co-directs the Centre for Philosophy and Critical Thought. He is the author of Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea (Verso, 2010; 2017, 2nd ed.), Cartographies of the Absolute (with Jeff Kinkle, Zero Books, 2015), Una visión compleja. Hacía una estética de la economía (Meier Ramirez, 2021), La abstracción real. Filosofia, estética y capital (Palinodia, 2021), and the co-editor of the 3-volume The SAGE Handbook of Marxism (with Sara Farris, Bev Skeggs and Svenja Bromberg, SAGE, 2022), and Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s Abolition Geography: Essays in Liberation (with Brenna Bhandar, Verso, 2022). His books Late Fascism (Verso) and Terms of Disorder: Keywords for an Interregnum (Seagull) will be published in 2023. He is a member of the editorial board of the journal Historical Materialism: Research in Critical Marxist Theory and is series editor of Seagull Essays and The Italian List for Seagull Books. He is also the translator of numerous books and essays by Antonio Negri, Alain Badiou, Franco Fortini, Furio Jesi and others.
“Breaking with Civilization: Anti-Semitism, Racial Capitalism, and the Ignoble Savage”
In his 1983 book Black Marxism, Cedric Robinson argued that “the tendency of European civilization through capitalism was thus not to homogenize but to differentiate – to exaggerate regional, subcultural, and dialectical differences into ‘racial’ ones.” It is this tendency to which Robinson lent the name “racial capitalism.” While Jews feature in Robinson’s account, the nexus of racial capitalism and anti-Semitism is not among his work’s salient concerns. This paper starts from the premise that a dialogue between the paradigm of racial capitalism and historical-materialist inquiries into anti-Semitism could prove fruitful in approaching the interrelations between colonialism, slavery, and the Holocaust. I want to approach this dialogue along two distinct if interlocking axes. The first is the effort to rethink the place of Jews and anti-Semitism in the history of capitalism undertaken in the early 1940s, on the one hand, by the ‘Frankfurt School’ in exile (namely in their 1941 ‘Research Project on Anti-Semitism’) and, on the other, by Abraham Leon in his La conception matérialiste de la question juive, written under Nazi occupation and published posthumously after his murder at Auschwitz in 1944. In these approaches racial capitalism appears in the guise of a racialisation of capital, namely of capital’s intermediary functions (credit, interest, commerce). While the racist link of Jews with capitalist abstraction – depicted by anti-Semites as a kind of pathology of civilisation – has been explored from multiple angles, I want to complicate this framework by turning to the work of the Italian Germanist and mythologist Furio Jesi who, in his essays on the blood libel and his unpublished project on the persecution of difference, underscores the importance of figures of ‘savagery’ to anti-Semitism. I will argue that an exploration of the ways in which capitalism operates “by leveraging, intensifying and creating racial distinctions” (Jenkins and Leroy) – and of how this process creates the elements for extreme violence – needs to attend to the political work done by the concept of civilisation (and its antithesis, savagery) but cannot afford to employ it as an explanatory notion. Or, to study civilisation breaks we need to break with civilisation.