The Faurisson Affair

Noam Chomsky writes to Lawrence K. Kolodney

Circa 1989-1991

Kolodney’s query:

Recently, I have come across allegations concerning actions you took with respect to the Faurisson affair. Although I thought the issue was essentially settled, a new pamphlet, entitled “The Hidden Alliances of Noam Chomsky” by one Werner Cohn has been making its way around. It claims to rebut your most recent public statement in “The Nation” on the subject, and contains some disturbing allegations.

1. Is it true that you stated that you saw “no anti-semitic implications in denial of the existence of gas chambers, or even denial of the holocaust”? Did you mean this in a purely formal sense? In any other way, it seems strange to me that you wouldn’t at least suspect the motives of someone who does seriously attempt to deny that event.

2. Is it true that you published the French version of “The Political Economy of Human Rights” with Faurisson’s publisher? Doesn’t this go beyond the scope of merely defending free speech to subsidizing anti-semitic speech?

3. What’s the story behind La Vielle Taupe [the publisher of Faurisson]? The pamphlet I mentioned paints it as a kind of Larouchite organization, with roots in the stalinist [sic] left but now with an idiosyncratic right wing ideology.


Chomsky’s reply:

Dear Mr. Kolodney,

The issue of the Faurisson affair is very far from settled, in two respects. First, the actual issue has not yet even been addressed. Recall the facts. A professor of French literature was suspended from teaching on grounds that he could not be protected from violence, after privately printing pamphlets questioning the existence of gas chambers. He was then brought to trial for “falsification of History,” and later condemned for this crime, the first time that a modern Western state openly affirmed the Stalinist-Nazi doctrine that the state will determine historical truth and punish deviation from it. Later he was beaten practically to death by Jewish terrorists. As of now, the European and other intellectuals have not expressed any opposition to these scandals; rather, they have sought to disguise their profound commitment to Stalinist-Nazi doctrine by following the same models, trying to divert attention with a flood of outrageous lies. So, the issue has not been settled, or even addressed.

Second, as to the minor matter of my role, that has also not been addressed, though it has been the subject of a flood of lies and deceit on the part of those who want to disguise their own commitments, and on the part of groups like Americans for Safe Israel (ASI), which have their own agendas, namely, to defame and discredit anyone who does not meet their standards of support for Israeli militancy. ASI, which published the ludicrous pamphlet to which you refer, has a long record of attacking Americans and Israelis who depart from their right-wing extremism, with scandalous lies and fabrications, a record that is well-known. ASI was also the sponsor of Rabbi Kahane, the advocate of the Nuremberg laws who was denounced as an outright Nazi by Israeli supreme court justices and Israeli scholars, and barred from the Israeli political system as an outspoken Nazi, which indeed he was. People who choose to pay attention to pamphlets published by pro-Nazi organizations of course have a right to do so. I believe in freedom of speech. But it is hard to take them seriously.

The pamphlet in question is beneath discussion. In fact, I have discussed it once, in the Canadian Jewish journal Outlook, where Cohn presented what he took to be his strongest arguments — including one that you cite. Each argument was based on total fabrication and absurdity, as easily demonstrated. He never dared to respond. Those, recall, were his own choice of his strongest arguments.

Turning to your questions, I’ll begin with the third. For details about Vieille Taupe, I suggest that you contact them. The publisher still exists, to my knowledge. I don’t know much about them, but enough to know that what you quote from Cohn is idiotic. The roots of the organization are not “stalinist left” but libertarian left. It was associated with the French (more or less anarchosyndicalist) group of Alfred Rosmer (Griot) and others, whose journal was Revolution proletarienne. This was one of the very few groups in France that was not only anti-Stalinist, but anti-Leninist, and anti-Marxist by conventional standards (little being known among intellectuals beyond the Leninist variant). As to their recent history, I know less, but I have never seen the slightest indication that they are Larouchite. Again, for information, I suggest that you contact them. Surely no one can take Cohn and ASI seriously, given their record of abusive defamation of mild liberals, lies, jingoist extremism, and advocacy of Nazi doctrine.

Your second question is a factual one: did I, as Cohn asserts, choose to publish the French edition of PEHR with VT, as a gesture of solidarity? Note that even if that were true, he could not possibly know it, which is sufficient to prove to any rational person that he is a liar. Out of curiosity, I contacted the publisher — who, of course, arranges all translations; I can’t even keep track of the myriad translations of books of mine, let alone arrange or plan them. I discovered that they indeed had a contract, with Albin Michel, a mainstream French publisher. But they had no record of whether the book had ever appeared; nor do I, or Herman. They had had no communications with Vielle Taupe.

Now your first question. The “statement” to which you refer is a distortion of something that I wrote in a personal letter 11 years ago, when I was asked whether the fact that a person denies the existence of gas chambers does not prove that he is an anti-Semite. I wrote back what every sane person knows: no, of course it does not. A person might believe that Hitler exterminated 6 million Jews in some other way without being an anti-Semite. Since the point is trivial and disputed by no one, I do not know why we are discussing it.

In that context, I made a further point: even denial of the Holocaust would not prove that a person is an anti-Semite. I presume that that point too is not subject to contention. Thus if a person ignorant of modern history were told of the Holocaust and refused to believe that humans are capable of such monstrous acts, we would not conclude that he is an anti-Semite. That suffices to establish the point at issue.

The point is considerably more general. Denial of monstrous atrocities, whatever their scale, does not in itself suffice to prove that those who deny them are racists vis-a-vis the victims. I am sure you agree with this point, which everyone constantly accepts. Thus, in the journal of the American Jewish Congress, a representative of ASI writes that stories about Hitler’s anti-gypsy genocide are an “exploded fiction.” In fact, as one can learn from the scholarly literature (also Wiesenthal, Vidal-Naquet, etc.), Hitler’s treatment of the gypsies was on a par with his slaughter of Jews. But we do not conclude from these facts alone that the AJC and ASI are anti-gypsy racists. Similarly, numerous scholars deny that the Armenian genocide took place, and some people, like Elie Wiesel, make extraordinary efforts to prevent any commemoration or even discussion of it. Until the last few years, despite overwhelming evidence before their eyes, scholars denied the slaughter of some 10 million native Americans in North America and perhaps 100 million on the [South American] continent. Recent studies of US opinion show that the median estimate of Vietnamese casualties [resulting from the Vietnam War] is 100,000, about 1/20 of the official figure and probably 1\30 or 1\40 of the actual figure. The reason is that that is the fare they have been fed by the propaganda apparatus (media, journals of opinion, intellectuals, etc., “scholarship,” etc.) for 20 years. We (at least I) do not conclude from that fact alone that virtually the whole country consists of anti-Vietnamese racists. I leave it to you to draw the obvious analogies.

In these and numerous other cases, one needs more evidence before concluding that the individuals are racists. Thus in the case of Wiesel, it is quite likely that he is merely following the instructions of the Israeli government, which doesn’t want Turkey embarrassed. In short, denial of even the most horrendous slaughter does not in itself establish the charge of racism, as everyone agrees. Since that is obvious and undeniable, one naturally questions the motives of those who deny the truism selectively, and produce charges such as those you relay.

You ask whether one wouldn’t at least suspect the motives of someone who denies genocide (the Holocaust, in particular). Of course. Thus, I do suspect the motives of Wiesel, Bernard Lewis, the anthropological profession, the American Jewish Congress and ASI, Faurisson, Western intellectuals who systematically and almost universally downplay the atrocities of their own states, and people who deny genocide and atrocities generally. But I do not automatically conclude that they are racists; nor do you. Rather, we ask what leads them to these horrendous conclusions. There are many different answers, as we all agree. Since the points are again obvious, a rational person will proceed also to question the motives of those who pretend to deny them, when it suits their particular political purposes. In this respect too the Faurisson affair is far from “settled,” as you put it; in fact, the issues have yet to be addressed. In fact, they will never be addressed, because they reveal too much about Western intellectual culture.

Let me repeat. You open by saying that you thought the Faurisson issue is settled. You are incorrect. It has yet even to be addressed, either the major issue that Western intellectuals are desperate to suppress for the obvious reason that it sheds too much light on their actual commitments; or the marginal issue of my own defense of traditional libertarian values that are utterly scorned in Europe, if they are even understood, which I doubt.

Sincerely yours,

Noam Chomsky