Though it's not really billed as a review, Michael K. Smith's essay, "Dogma, Double Standards, and Doubt — the Bradley Smith Heresy and Beyond," presents the most discerning treatment of Break His Bones (now available for $4 postpaid from Nine-Banded Books) that I've seen anywhere. Smith (that would be Michael) opens with a full-throated defense of Bradley's quixotic campaign to promote academic freedom on the Holocaust question, noting how the old scribe has for years exposed the "intellectual cowardice of college professors, the
craven submissiveness of the corporate media, and the fanatical zeal of
Holocaustomaniacs," at some personal cost:
Holocaust Industry fanatics routinely slander
Smith, disrupt his speaking engagements, prevent circulation of his
work, keep him on the brink of financial ruin, and threaten to kill
him, his wife, and his children. Nevertheless, Smith persists in
pointing out the wild implausibilities in the conventional Holocaust
narrative, as he has for three decades, and calls for an open debate on
the topic on U.S. college campuses. Though no such debate has yet taken
place, his tireless efforts to give sanity a chance have left the
Holocaust Industry looking increasingly ridiculous.
Smith (Michael, again) is clearly sympathetic to the dissident view, and goes further than I would in ascribing the entrenched orthodoxy to "a Judeo-centric self-obsession that simply will not face reality – or let anyone else do so either." I suspect Bradley got a kick out the bit where Smith (you've figured this out by now, right?) draws a novel comparison to James Baldwin's famous letter to his nephew, penned on the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation:
Noting that the illusion of black inferiority had
long served as the anchor of white identity, Baldwin told his nephew
that white people couldn't help but feel alarm in the face of a black
freedom movement that attacked their very sense of reality. "Try to
imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun
shining and all the stars aflame," wrote Uncle James. "You would be
frightened because it is out of the order of nature." And violations of
nature cannot be assimilated. "The black man has functioned in the
white man's world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar," he
observed, "and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are
shaken to their foundations."
Among Jews, orthodox
belief in the Holocaust has functioned as an immovable pillar, so that
any skepticism about mass gassing chambers threatens to bring the
Temple of Eternal Victimhood crashing down upon their heads. Having
long built Jewish identity around a narrative of 2000+ years of
unmerited suffering culminating in "extermination" in Nazi gas
chambers, organized Jewry cannot easily accept that key aspects of the
story may be as much legend as factual description, as much myth as
reality. Confronted by Smith's skepticism, they do not debate what they
consider to be his intellectual errors, but rather, smear him as
While Smith deftly defends a good man against the usual calumnies, his hard-left bona fides make the essay especially interesting. To the considerable extent that Bradley comes in for criticism, it is not for his intellectual transgressions, but for his spiritually fixated libertarian idealism. To wit:
For Smith, "the initiation of violence is the
overriding issue." The problem with this orientation is that it
overlooks the fact that violence is seamlessly integrated into all the
dominant institutions of capitalist society, making it quite impossible
to determine the "initiation" of violence. Under capitalism it is
permissible to exclude millions of people from access to clean water,
adequate food, medical care, and other basic necessities, resulting in
countless unnecessary deaths. Capitalist propagandists insist this is
not violence, but that a social movement dedicated to changing these
priorities by displacing capitalist elites by force is violence. This
is a starkly ideological definition that Smith does not bother to
inspect. In fact, he uncritically supports it.
Like Bradley, I have little use for the radical critique of capitalism, and the idea of "displacing capitalist elites by force" strikes me as downright ugly (though here I suppose I should permit that Smith's definitions may differ, perhaps radically, from my own). But with the dialectic left to the background, Smith's stance is still useful in that it permits him to criticize Bradley's work on terms seldom broached in revisionist circles, which is to say, on Bradley's own terms. "Smith," writes Smith, "like Holocaust revisionists in general, is
far too credulous in believing fantastical claims about socialist or
Communist atrocities." To support his assertion, Smith corners Bradley on a select few armchair Vonnegutisms in Bones — where Bradley suggests a kind of moral equivalence between the Contras and Sandanistas and riffs on the irony of liberation theology ministered to Salvadorian guerrillas. In both instances, Smith argues that Bradley's spiritually infused pacifism provides a convenient cover from which to avoid direct confrontation with brute realities that call desperate and oppressed people to violent action.
Allowing that the Shoah is uniquely abloat with hoary hyperbole, Smith ups the ante by arguing that "belief in Communism as a satanic and even more murderous force than Nazism" has come to assume much of the same dogmatic stature in contemporary discourse. Thus are we treated to a few shards of Black Book revisionism, like the bit where Smith calls shenanigans on an early account of Bolshevik terror:
Testifying before the Congressional Overman
Committee in 1919 U.S. Ambassador to Moscow David Francis claimed the
Bolsheviks were killing everyone who wears a white collar or who is
educated and who is not a Bolshevik. Madame Katherine Breshkovskaya, a
famous anti-Bolshevik militant, testified that in one year of Bolshevik
rule twice as many Russian men, women, and children had been killed
than Russian soldiers were lost at the front during all of World War I.
Other witnesses swore the revolutionary army was made up of criminals
and Jews transplanted from New York's Lower East Side. Still others
insisted promiscuity was running amok, with women nationalized and
roped into "free love" bureaus. The bed-hopping Bolsheviks were also
alleged to be roasting their political enemies in furnaces, scalding
them with steam, dismembering them on racks and hacking them to pieces
with axes. Sound familiar?
Indeed it does. And I wouldn't be surprised if there were some merit to Smith's contextual reappraisal of death tolls attributed to Maoist land reforms (he cites contemporaneous Indian famine deaths as a control). Out of the gate, I assume there's plenty of bullshit to go around, and ideology be damned. For me, the centrality of the Holocaust controversy stems mainly from the fact that it is at present the only historical dispute that cannot be engaged in good faith without personal risk. Stalin's revisionists are nowhere kept in cages. At least not to my knowledge, and correct me if I am mistaken.
In any event, Smith's antepenultimate line tightens things up well enough. "The point," he writes, "is that claims about tens of millions of people
being deliberately murdered are very often ideological exercises
designed to demonize or otherwise discredit selected enemies of
I would have ended the sentence with "enemies." But that's just me.
6 thoughts on “(Smith) on Smith on Smith”
I think you linked to Rambling Rose before. That’s okay, it’s a good performance.
Yeah, it’s a classic. And I’m not getting any younger.
I guess the performance is good (and I know they’re a big influence on The Hives, one of my favorite bands), but what’s with all those damn hippies just standing around stoned out of their minds? Makes me want to launch into a tiresome anti-boomer tirade. That intro, though, with the girl telling us “don’t freak out” and how to assemble our FM stereo with the stereo equipment in the house so it’ll be “like a drive-in movie”– THAT’s priceless. Retro gold.
To take it meta another level (or a different direction), what’s up with the heroic casting of Smith? It wouldn’t be more accurate to say that he finds his lane being this guy taking on the Shoah/Anti-communist industries? To what degree is he in an informal coordination with them (what seems to me to be the case with most dialectics, even of the extremely asymmetrical variety)?
There are a zillion epistemological options for someone trying to discover or popularize something about our larger reality. Why Smith + Holocaust/Cold War revisionism?
I find that such “informal coordination” may be readily located in the concurrent obsessions of anti-Semites and philo-Semites, but I don’t really see it in Bradley’s engagement with the Holocaust question. If you read Mark Oppenheimer’s “The Denial Twist,” it is apparent that the author is rather bored by old Bradley and his quaint idealism. By contrast, Oppenheimer can’t get enough of Mark Weber, the studious anti-Semite. Bradley is reading from a different script.
At its core, Smith’s work is concerned with a crisis of interpersonal communication, and his form is distinctly and crucially literary. The subject found him for reasons that latch to culture, sensibility and chance. The rest is romance. Might as well ask why Henry Miller wrote about his sexual adventures.
Though perhaps I should have begun by asking, which “Smith”?
True, Stalin’s revisionists are not kept in cages, although in terms of repression those labeled Communist have suffered far more than those labeled Holocaust Denier. Nobody has sent death squads after Holocaust Deniers, as has routinely happened to those who challenge private control over resources. Millions have been killed in the name of anti-Communism.