From ‘Jewish Capital’ to the ‘Jewish-Fascist Legion in Jerusalem’: The Development of Antizionism in the German Communist Party (KPD) in the Weimar Republic, 1925-1933 – Olaf Kistenmacher – Engage Journal – Issue 3 – September 2006

Traditionally, anti-Zionism on the radical left has been perceived as a reaction to the Six-Day War in 1967 and, more generally, it has been seen as a post-Shoah phenomenon. Historians and activists who are concerned about left antisemitism and who search for its roots, have drawn the following picture: The Six-Day War had revived older anti-Jewish stereotypes that had been repressed after the Shoah. Socialists and communists uttered antisemitic statements before 1933, although ‘race hatred, national incitement, anti-Semitism’ was officially prohibited, as the Second Congress of the Third International had made clear again in summer 1920. (1) The Shoah, however, made it necessary to enforce this prohibition without exception, and because the earlier form of antisemitism was repressed it resurfaced as anti-Zionism. (2) In the Socialist states this occurred as early as the years following World War II, when thousands of Jews or people of Jewish descent were persecuted as ‘Zionists’, ‘spies’, ‘traitors of their countries’, and ‘enemies of socialism’. (3) According to this approach, anti-Zionism after 1945 reappeared in the form the Frankfurt School called ‘secondary antisemitism’. (4)

In this paper I challenge this common view and show instead that the German Communist Party (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, KPD) in the Weimar Republic already held a biased antizionist position which had the same patterns, that became characteristic of the ‘new antisemitic anti-Zionism’. (5) For the Weimar KPD, ‘Zionism’ was already a form of ‘fascism’ which was to be fought against in the same manner as National Socialism. The Central Committee of the KPD declared in its only official paper on the so-called ‘Jewish Question’, Communism and the Jewish Question (Kommunismus und Judenfrage, 1932), that ‘we are fighting Zionism as [sic] we are fighting National Socialism’. (6) I will demonstrate how the KPD was able to equate ‘Zionism’ with National Socialism in their ideology. First, I will argue that the anti-Zionism of the 1920s was based upon the concepts of the nation and nationalism and, second, on the stereotypes of ‘Jews’ that existed in the communist movement in the Weimar Republic. (7) Given a new understanding of the roots of anti-Zionism, the appearance of anti-Zionism in the 20th century requires a re-evaluation: It can not only be seen as a form of secondary antisemitism, but also should be perceived as a consequence and moulding of the older, traditional, pre-Shoah, or ‘primary’ antisemitism. (8)

In the Stalinist trials of the late 1940s and 1950s, the police, secret services and District Attorneys in the Socialist states used the term ‘Zionists’ to designate people accused of working for an ‘imperialist conspiracy’ against state socialism and of working for ‘US imperialism’. To be a ‘Zionist’ did not mean that these people wanted to move to Israel. As the historian Thomas Haury argued in his study about the trial against Paul Merker and his so-called ‘Zionist conspiracy circle’ in the early German Democratic Republic,

‘The term “Zionism” now worked rather as the central metaphor in the Marxist-Leninist worldview and was connected with the claim of a world conspiracy of anational Wall Street capitalists, with the antagonism of “producing people” versus “finance hyenas and parasites” and with the threat of putrefying sabotage [Zersetzungsarbeit] by hidden inner-state fiends.’ (9)

Most of the so-designated ‘Zionists’ were of Jewish descent, and therefore the term ‘Zionist’ was used to refer to Jewish people without using the term ‘Jews’. (10)

Anti-imperialism and ‘Anti-Zionism’ in the Mid-1920s

The daily newspaper of the KPD, the Rote Fahne (Red Flag), mentioned Zionism for the very first time in a headline on 25 July 1925. (11) The headline stated ‘Zionism – the Chained Dog of British Imperialism’ (12) and revealed a specific form of hatred against ‘Zionism’ that differed from the positions against Zionism formulated by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin or Karl Kautsky. In 1916, Kautsky wrote Are Jews a Race? (Rasse und Judentum) in order to criticise the racist antisemitism and racism in human sciences. In spite of this aim, his critique itself seemed, as the historian Enzo Traverso has argued, in some pages ‘drawn from a manual of social Darwinism’ because Kautsky called the ‘commercial specialization’ of ‘Jews’ a ‘“distinct hereditary trait”‘. (13)

On the other hand, Kautsky was obviously still shocked by the pogroms in the beginning of the twentieth century in Eastern Europe. As Jack Jacobs puts it in On Socialists and the “Jewish Question” after Marx, Kautsky remained ‘an opponent of the Zionist movement, but he was an opponent who was sympathetic to Jewry’s plight’. (14) In this context, although Kautsky rejected the idea of a Jewish national state, he did not advocate hatred of ‘Zionism’.
The Rote Fahne, conversely, mentioned the anti-Jewish pogroms in the beginning of the twentieth century, but did not regard them as a reason for ‘Zionism’:

‘Zionism, behind the mask of a “charitable” movement that saves the poor Jews who were threatened by pogroms and so forth and that gives them a “home” [Heimstätte], is in reality an instrument of British imperialism.’ (15)

Such hatred requires an explanation. One might argue that the KPD must have been against a Jewish national movement, because communists were in general against nationalism. However, this was not entirely the case for the Second International and even less for the Third International under Stalin. To be an internationalist party meant for the German communists that they viewed class struggles as a global problem, and therefore, the Rote Fahne and other party papers like the theoretical organ Die Internationale (The International) regularly reported on conflicts in China, India, and Turkey. To be internationalist, however, did not mean that the communist parties of the Third International were willing to overcome the concepts of nationality and abandon the idea of national territories. The Second International had already confirmed the ‘national right to self-determination’ in 1893 (16), and it was only Rosa Luxemburg who criticized the ‘national question’ as an irrelevant problem for socialists.

‘When we speak of the “right of nations to self-determination,” we are using the concept of the “nation” as a homogeneous social and political entity. But actually, such a concept of the “nation” is one of those categories of bourgeois ideology which Marxist theory submitted to a radical re-vision, showing how that misty veil, like the concepts of the “freedom of citizens,” “equality before the law,” etc., conceals in every case a definite historical content. … Social Democracy is the class party of the proletariat. Its historical task is to express the class interests of the proletariat and also the revolutionary interests of the development of capitalist society toward realizing socialism. Thus, Social Democracy is called upon to realize not the right of nations to self-determination but only the right of the working class, which is exploited and oppressed, of the proletariat, to self-determination.’ (17)

The KPD not only endorsed ‘national freedom movements’ and the idea of the ‘national independence’ of colonial countries, but also in 1923 saw even Germany as a ‘colony’ to be liberated from international ‘imperialism’. (18) In the 1920s, the Marxist slogan ‘Proletarians of all countries, unite!’ was amended by the Third International to ‘Proletarians of all countries and oppressed peoples of the world, unite!’ (19) According to the KPD, the colonized people did not only struggle in equal measure as the workers in Germany did, but also, according to the reports in the Rote Fahne, colonized people and the working class suffered the same fate…

Let me step back for a moment. It cannot be assumed that the German communists should have necessarily hated Zionism. On the contrary, it would have been reasonable for communists to be more discriminating about Zionism. Not only insofar as Zionism was a reaction to the increasing threat of antisemitism, but also inasmuch as World War I had completely destroyed the hope that nationalism, national chauvinism and racism would be overcome soon. According to Martin W. Kloke’s study on Israel and the German left, the Weimar Social Democrats changed their attitude towards Zionism because of the experience of WW I and became more sympathetic to the idea of a Jewish state. (20) The KPD’s official answer to what it called the ‘Jewish Question’ was that the Jews had to assimilate to the German community. The Central Committee wrote: ‘The KPD confirmed any assimilation …’ The KPD did not come to terms with the whole problem in the Weimar Republic, and this is evident if you consider the argument the KPD gave for the ‘assimilation’:

‘In Germany, where the Jewish working masses are already in their overwhelming majority assimilated, it is counterrevolutionary to try to split them up ideologically and organizationally from the masses of the German proletariat, and it will be disadvantageous to the greatest extent to the Jewish workers themselves.’ (21)

The KPD contradicted its own argument. Either the ‘Jewish workers’ were ‘already assimilated’, and there would therefore be no reason to call them ‘Jewish’ anymore, or they were not assimilated and remained Jewish. This was more than a theoretical problem in the Soviet Union, where to be a Jew was a national identity. On Soviet passports, Jewish people were listed in the column for nationality as ‘Jews’. The German communists had two options: They could either see Jews as a national minority with the rights of a national minority, or they could oppose to the policy of the Soviet Union and perceive Jews just as a religion. The KPD decided in favour for the second solution, but the party did not stop speaking of Jews in terms a group of strangers, or a nation of its own, or of a specific social group.

There would have been another important reason to sympathize more with the Zionist movement – especially for communists. Not only was the socialist form of life on the kibbutzim potentially fascinating for communists (22), it was the Jews in Palestine who founded a Communist party, and not the Arabs who were living under the British Mandate. (23) The Rote Fahne hardly mentioned the Communist Party of Palestine.

More generally, according to Tom Segev’s One Palestine Complete: Jews and Arabs under the British Mandate, the Jewish labour movement took ‘control of Jewish public life and monopolize[d] the formulation of its values and symbols’ in the British Mandate Palestine. (24) Even if the Jewish labour movement saw itself as more connected to the European Social Democratic parties (25), this was not a reason for the KPD to criticize it. Instead, the KPD failed to mention the socialist attitude of important parts of the Zionist movement and did not differentiate much between streams in Zionism.

Of course, the strongest objection against Zionist settlement in Palestine was that an Arab community already existed there before the Zionist movement emerged. In this view the Austrian communist Otto Heller, who in 1932 published the book The Downfall of Judaism: The Jewish Question/Its Critique/Its Solution by Socialism (Der Untergang des Judentums. Die Judenfrage/Ihre Kritik/Ihre Lösung durch den Sozialismus), called a ‘Jewish state’ a ‘utopia’ because the Zionist idea ignored the ‘Arab fellah’. (26) The Central Committee of the KPD expressed a similar argument more radically by arguing that Zionism converted the people into a ‘volkish community [Volksgemeinschaft] with the Jewish exploiters’ and ‘into instruments’ in ‘the struggle against the Arab colonial liberation movement’. (27)

It is disconcerting that the KPD’s Central Committee could only imagine a state in Palestine being either Jewish or Arab. Why could Arabs and Jews not live together? The German communists could have argued that Jews and Arabs could live together in Palestine as they did in the centuries before. They could also have considered that the European Jewish settlers would import technical knowledge and economic power to the Middle East. This could have been an important point for Jewish settlement – especially in the eyes of communists. Even Arab politicians shared this perspective in the 1920s. (28)

The point of the foregoing considerations is not to argue that the KPD should have supported Zionism, but rather that it must have taken considerable effort to develop such a simple position as this form of anti-Zionism. I want to stress that the KPD had to ignore many aspects of the early conflicts in the Middle East in order to maintain a biased/hateful anti-Zionism. In fact, there were deeper reasons for this anti-Zionism: the first reason was that the communists did not criticize the idea that nations were given as quasi-natural entities and that specific territories ‘belonged’ to them. Indeed, this concept of nations formed the basis for the anti-imperialism of the German Communist Party. In Marxism and the National Question (or The National Question and Social Democracy), first published in 1913, Stalin formulated the basis for any discussion about ‘nations’ and ‘nationalism’:

‘We have now exhausted the characteristic features of a nation. A nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.’ (29)

Accordingly, Stalin did not consider the Jews to be a ‘real nation’. This was different from the Soviet Union’s policy in the 1920s, when – under Stalin – a ‘Jewish national district’ was founded in 1928 in the Eastern-Asian Birobidzhan. (30) In his Marxism and the National Question, however, the Jews in the Soviet Union could not be part of the ‘national program’,

‘No, it is not for such paper “nations” that Social-Democracy draws up its national programme. It can reckon only with real nations, which act and move, and therefore insist on being reckoned with. ‘ (31)

Since the early 1920s, the Rote Fahne reported emphatically on the ‘national liberation struggles’ in colonized countries and territories. Indeed, it was not the aim of communism to overcome nations. On the contrary, the Russian Communist Party created new ‘partly autonomous’ countries or district countries for ‘national minorities’ inside the Soviet Union.

The second reason for anti-Zionism in the German Communist Party was presence of the antisemitic stereotypes about ‘Jews’ in the party. Throughout the Weimar republic, the Rote Fahne identified ‘Jews’ with capital and capitalists. Consequently, a ‘Jewish’ movement like Zionism was identified with ‘imperialism’, because Lenin and Luxemburg had made clear that imperialism was the current transformation of world capitalism. (32) For communists the crucial question was how the political and socio-economic character of a national movement or a national entity was to be evaluated. Of course, the communist parties were fighting against ‘War and Imperialism’. This, however, did not mean that the KPD rejected wars or military activities in general. Rather, the German Communist Party objected to wars waged by capitalist and ‘imperialist’ countries. On the contrary, the KPD affirmed and supported military activities if they set out to help a colonized ‘nation’ or colonized people liberate themselves.

A month after calling ‘Zionism’ the ‘Chained Dog of Imperialism’ the Rote Fahne expressed communist solidarity with the ‘anti-colonial liberation struggle’ with a headline on the front page: ‘Red Front against Imperialism!’ (33) The KPD welcomed the wars or battles of so-called oppressed nations. These battles were considered to be ‘anti-imperialist’ activities. On the contrary, the Zionist movement was never described as a ‘liberation movement [befreiungsbewegung]’. The German term ‘Befreiungsbewegung’ was not clear at that time and means both to fight against an imperialistic or colonial oppression and to fight for national self-determination. The KPD re-affirmed its position in 1930 with its second program, the ‘Program of the KPD for the National and Social Liberation of the German People’ (Programm zur nationalen und sozialen Befreiung des deutschen Volkes, 1930) in which the KPD did not differentiate between ‘national’ and ‘social liberation’ but brought them together. (34)

As mentioned above, the KPD called Zionism ‘imperialistic’ from the very first article in the Rote Fahne on the subject. This meant that Zionism was also considered as ‘capitalist’ and globally powerful. Consequently, the KPD not only criticized and rejected the program of the Zionist movement, but also denied Jews any right to exist as a nation. According to the Rote Fahne, ‘Jews’ were ‘air people at the border zone of the social organism’, unable to build their own national economy and thus their own national community.

‘… Zionism developed as an ideology of the desperate petty bourgeoisie. As air people [Luftmenschen] at the border area of the social organism, they did not come to the socialist movement to which the Jewish workers were connected, but were looking for preservation from economic and political persecution in a utopia, the Palestinian Jewish state.’ (35)
It was a central feature of modern antisemitism to believe that ‘Jews’ did not belong to the national economy, to the ‘social organism’, and that they lived as ‘parasites’ in other communities. In addition, it is noteworthy that the KPD reproduced this position without using the volkish vocabulary. However, the KPD made one important exception: although the party denied the Jews in Palestine their ability to build a state of their own, the KPD did not deny the Jews to build up an economy of their own in Birobidzhan. By this, according to the Soviet policy, the Jews in Birobidzhan would become ‘real workers’ and ‘peasants’ and therefore ‘real human beings’. (35) What did it mean that the ‘Jews’ were denied the ability to work, to be productive and to build up their own national economy? In the Stalinist trials against ‘Zionists’, it meant that ‘Jews’ were denied to be human beings. (37)

It is noteworthy that already in the 1920s the Rote Fahne often did not speak of the Zionism as a political movement formed by human beings, but rather in terms of power, forces, or elements. In August 1929, the Rote Fahne called the Zionist Jews ‘agents’ in a headline: ‘Against British Imperialism and Its Zionist Agents in Palestine! Manifesto of the League against Imperialism’. (38) A few days earlier, the Rote Fahne referred to the Zionists as an anonymous form of ‘terror’. In a bold-type subtitle it said that an anonymous ‘Jewish-fascist terror’ was fighting against the ‘Arab workers’: ‘Demonstration of Arab workers against the Jewish-fascist terror in favour of the right to found trade unions and the eight hour working day’. (39)

Since the end of the 1920s, the KPD equated Zionism increasingly with ‘fascism’. At that time, the KPD also denounced all other parties as ‘fascist’ parties – the Social Democrats were called ‘Social fascists [Sozialfaschisten]’, and the National Socialists were called ‘National fascists [Nationalfaschisten]’. To speak of Zionism as a form of ‘fascism’, however, marked an important difference. The characterization worked on a different level, that is, on the level of foreign policy. By designating Zionism as ‘fascism’, the KPD not only denigrated a segment of a society or a specific political party or movement, but also rather designated an entire ethnic group, a nation that came into being at that time. Because ‘Zionism’ appeared as the Jewish national movement, the KPD used the terms ‘Jewish’ and ‘Zionist’ as synonyms. The Communist Party of Palestine occasionally distinguished between Jews and Zionists arguing, ‘So the British policy had to try hard: […] to force the Jewish [sic] population again into the discipline of the Zionist [sic] organizations’ (40), but the German Communist Party always used the terms ‘Zionist’ and ‘Jewish’ interchangeable.

The ‘anti-colonial liberation movement of the Arabs’ against the ‘Agents of Imperialism’ in Palestine

In order to maintain such an unnuanced antizionist position, the KPD was forced to ignore a specific group of people as well as important aspects of the conflicts in Palestine. First, the KPD had to ignore the Jewish communities that had existed in Palestine since the nineteenth century or longer. Second, the KPD had to overlook class conflicts inside the Arab communities. Third, the KPD had to overlook the nationalism of the Arabs. (41) In 1927, the Rote Fahne wrote under the headline ‘The anti-colonial liberation – not a nationalistic, but a social demand’:

‘… for the weak and only poorly organized peoples the stranger is only the exploiter! … If a people that is kicked like that tried to liberate itself from the European parasites, it is not nationalistic fanaticism, but a social act.’ (42)

One might expect the KPD to have criticized the nationalization of the conflict. Instead of fanning the nationalist flames, the KPD could have argued in favour of Jews and Arabs living together in Palestine. The KPD however, pressed the conflict in Palestine into the scheme of ‘class struggle,’ attributing the two ethnic groups each a specific role in this ‘class struggle’: The Zionists or ‘the Jews,’ together with the British Mandatory government, were the personifications of capitalism and imperialism, and the Arabs were the oppressed people, the workers, and their struggle was therefore considered to be anti-imperialist. The following reports about the conflict in Palestine followed this line of argumentation:

– ‘The Causes of the Struggles in Palestine’ (43);
– ‘Northern Palestine in Hands of the Revolting Arabs / New Bloody Struggles in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa and at the Borderline of Transjordan / Manifestations of Fraternization with the Rebels in Syria and Egypt’ (44);
– ‘Macdonald’s Massacre in Palestine / Martial Law in Haifa – Ship’s Bombing against Rebels – Labour Government Promises to Support the Zionist to Oppress the Arabs’ (45);
– ‘Against the British Imperialism and Its Zionist Agents in Palestine! Manifesto of the League against Imperialism’ (46);
– ‘The Arabs Are on the Advance / Arab Forces from Syria Cross the Border – Palestine-Demonstration in Baghdad – Macdonald’s Troops Keep on Murdering’ (47);
– ‘Battles in Northern Palestine’ (48);
– ‘In Solidarity with the Arab Rebellion! Manifestation of the Anti-Imperialism League’ (49),
– ‘The Liberation Struggle of Palestine, By Albert Norden’ (50).

The ‘Jews’ were not only identified with ‘imperialism’ and seen merely as interlopers, but rather they were seen as parasites, ‘air people’ who were just exploiting the Middle East. As the older Jewish communities in Hebron or Safed did not conform to this picture, they, too, had to be ignored.
Moreover, the KPD had to ignore the conflicts inside the Arab communities between the ‘fellah’ and the ‘effendis’. The Rote Fahne sometimes remarked the inner-Arab class conflicts, but they were mentioned only in the articles while the headlines simultaneously drew another picture. For example, it was mentioned in an article that the ‘development of the Arab revolt’ stood ‘until now under the big influence of the Effendi’, the big landowners, but this did not lead the KPD to see it as a bourgeois political movement. It was no reason for the KPD to deny the revolutionary character of what the communists called the ‘Arab rebellion’. In 1925 the Rote Fahne reported that the Arab Effendi were responsible for the Jewish settlement, because the Effendi had sold their landed property.

‘The rich Arab aristocracy, the “Effendi”, step on stage together with the European bourgeoisie and willingly sell their landed property to the Jewish capitalists. They do not care in the least about the fate of the impoverished Arab peasants who leased the soil for decades.’ (51)

However, by 1929, the editorial team of the Rote Fahne seemed to have totally forgotten that it had been the Effendi who sold the land of Palestine. In its reports, it was just the ‘Zionists’ who, as representative of the British Empire, brought ‘economic and political slavery’ to the Arabs.

‘The common rebellion of the Arabs against the Zionists is actually a rebellion against the economic and political slavery to which British Imperialism put them. … Thanks to the anti-imperialistic character of their struggle, the Palestinian Arabs were supported ethically and materially by the Arabs of Egypt, Syria, and Transjordan, and the masses of India’s people who stand in the revolutionary struggle for liberation from the yoke of British Imperialism.’ (52)

At the same time, the Rote Fahne tried at the same time to create solidarity with the colonized people by arguing that the German workers and the colonized slaves were suffering the same fate. The Rote Fahne called Germany a ‘colony’ in the year of crisis, 1923, the Rote Fahne when they published the headline: ‘International Haggling over the Colony Germany’. (53) If ‘Zionists’ meant ‘capitalists’, and if the Arabs played the role of the working class in the communist view, then the ‘Zionists’ were also enemies of the German working class. This parallel was expressed by the headline in 1929:
‘Enemies of the Worker are Leaders of Zionism!’ (54)

The Pogrom in Palestine 1929 and the Reaction of the KPD
The anti-Zionism of the KPD reached its climax at the end of August 1929 when Arabs rioted against the Jews for more than two weeks. Jews and Arabs were engaged in more than one bloody conflict in Palestine in the 1920s, but the outbreak in 1929 was the most brutal one. The riot was directed against the older Jewish communities and against the new Jewish settlers. 133 Jews were murdered (and 116 Arabs were killed by the military or Police). (55)

Many historians have demonstrated how the Arab national movement in the 1920s took the antisemitic stereotypes and forms of thought existing in Western Europe and in Russia. The ‘Mufti’ of Jerusalem Amīn al-Husainī played an important role by connecting the idea of a Palestinian nation with antisemitic images. (56) The Rote Fahne mentioned neither Arab nationalism nor the existence of antisemitism in the Middle East. Compared with that, it is shocking how the front page on 28 August 1929 was composed. The first headline reads: ‘Fascists Murdering in Berlin’ and, besides a long commentary, the second headline was: ‘The Rebellion of the Arabs Grows!’ The second article showed a photograph of a soldier with the accompanying text:

‘Stahlhelm yob? No, a member of the Jewish-fascist legion in Jerusalem’ (57)

It was not explained who was shown in the photograph and which part of the Zionist movement has intended by ‘Jewish-fascist legion’. Readers of the Rote Fahne who knew more about the situation in Palestine could have concluded that the picture showed a member of the Jewish legion of Wladimir Jabotinsky. (58) It would not have made sense for the Rote Fahne writers/editorial staff, however, to differentiate between different fractions of the Zionist movement, because the KPD wanted to demonize Zionism as a whole.
Demonizing Zionism in general allows the KPD to praise the Arab’s attacks on the ‘Jewish population’:

‘It is especially characteristic of the development of this movement that the attacks of the Arabs are not restricted to the Jewish population [jüdische Bevölkerung], but start to be directed against the main enemy, British imperialism. … The struggles in Palestine are answered by Zionists in many countries with nationalistic demonstrations It is typical that the strongest response can be found in America, where Jewish finance magnates, the sponsors of the Zionist movement who at the same time have invested many billions of dollars in Palestine, demand that the government intervene most strenuously against the Arab “rebels”. Their pressure caused the US government to demand through its ambassador in London, General Dawes, that the Labour Government takes energetic measures in Palestine against the Arabs (!).
The development of the Arab resistance movement, which remains largely under the influence of the Effendi (big landowners), has gained momentum, as the last reports show, and, as the raids of government buildings and police stations as well as against British troops make evident, is accordingly directed against the orchestrators of Zionism in Palestine, the British imperialists The revolt contains the possibility of sparking a generalized Arab rebellion against the British imperialist oppressor. The attacks that Arab natives carry out against the Zionist bourgeoisie and Zionist fascism in Palestine are at the same time attacks against England.
The Jewish proletariat of Palestine must fight shoulder to shoulder with the Arab workers against their common class enemy, British imperialism and the Jewish bourgeoisie that is bound up with it in life and death.’ (59)

The Rote Fahne did not even acknowledge that antisemitism could have caused the riots, though according to its own report the Arab mob attacked ‘the Jewish population’. A ‘J. B. (Jerusalem)’ on the other hand described the antisemitic violence strongly in his or her report for the International Press Correspondence (Imprecorr):

‘Because the masses of Mohammedan peasants who are standing under the dark-clerical, feudal, and bourgeois leadership are attacking, scorching and murdering, first of all the unarmed poor Jewish settlements, Jewish synagogues, and schools and created a terrible carnage amongst them. In the Talmud school in Hebron, 60 Jewish students – including children – were killed and mangled. In the colony Moza, a Jewish family including the women and the children were slaughtered.’ (60)

It is strange, therefore, that the Rote Fahne mentioned the ‘Jewish proletariat’ in Palestine – even though the Communist Party of Palestine was again excluded from the report. The KPD was not able to give a plausible answer about whether a Jewish proletariat had the right to live in Palestine or how the attacks on the ‘Jewish population’ could be justified if they were also directed against the Jewish proletariat. No answer would have been possible that would have fit into the line of argumentation about the conflicts in the Middle East.
It is noteworthy that the KPD perceived British imperialism as the main enemy, not the Zionists or the Jews. So British imperialism was explained as a manifestation of capitalism, as Lenin and Luxemburg had described the transformation of capitalism at the beginning of the twentieth century. On the contrary, the Rote Fahne gave another explanation for U.S. imperialism.

As quoted above, the Rote Fahne accounted for U.S. imperialism with the power, and the ‘pressure’ of the ‘Jewish finance magnates’. In other words, U.S. imperialism was explained by the power of a hidden conspiracy.
The main line of argumentation was the antagonism of the ‘Arab natives’ against the ‘Zionist bourgeoisie and the Zionist fascism’. By refering to the Arabs as the ‘natives’ the Rote Fahne made clear that for the KPD the land belonged to the Arabs, not to the ‘Zionists’ who were described as strangers, exploiters, and parasites with no rights to settle and to live in Palestine. (61) To encourage the hostility of German workers against ‘the Zionists’, the Rote Fahne printed the photo caption that made more sense together with the other headline on the front page: ‘Fascists’ were murdering workers, and ‘Zionism’ was ‘Jewish-fascist’. There should be no difference between ‘Zionism’ and the fascists of the Stahlhelm-Freikorp. ‘Zionism’ should be seen as the mortal enemy to communists – as the National Socialist movement was at the end of the 1920s.

I have not found additional articles about the Middle East in the Rote Fahne after 1930, a fact I can not explain yet. It is, however, evident that the KPD did not change its attitude towards ‘Zionism’ in the last three years of Weimar republic. As excerpted at the beginning of this paper, the Central Committee of the KPD declared, in its only official paper on the ‘Jewish Question’, that the communists should fight against ‘Zionism’ just as they fought against National Socialism. (62) Of course, such a declaration did not have the same effects against ‘Zionism’ as against National Socialism, because there was no Zionist movement in the Weimar Republic as powerful and threatening as the Nazi movement.

Of course, there is a considerable difference between the anti-Zionism of the 1920s and the anti-Zionism after 1945. Thousands of people were persecuted and murdered after 1945 in the name of this latter anti-Zionism. (63) Moreover, if you compare the statements of the KPD with statements by Leftists in the 1970s, there is a considerable difference between the anti-Zionism of the 1920s and the anti-Zionism after the Six-Day War, because after 1945 the Radical left engaged in this anti-Zionism though (or because?) they knew about the Shoah. I do not want to identify anti-Zionism before 1933 with anti-Zionism after the Shoah.

My argument is that the trajectory was already present in the 1920s. It did not need to be invented after 1945 in order to identify ‘Zionism’ with imperialism and capitalism, and the socialist and communist left after 1945 were not the first to advocate the hatred of ‘Zionism’. This has already been done in the 1920s. It is also important that the conversion of anti-imperialism into anti-Zionism marked a considerable shift in the worldview of the left: Throughout the Weimar Republic, the KPD drew a fetishistic picture of capitalism, as if the German working class possessed its ‘working power’ as a quasi-natural property that could create ‘values’ independent of the historical circumstances.

This picture was laden with a strange nationalistic and xenophobic meaning, that the capitalists were portrayed as ‘anationalist’ strangers who robbed the values produced by the working class. Therefore, the German working class became, in the eyes of communists, the real German people, compared to whom the capitalists were regarded as ‘traitors to the fatherland [Vaterlandsverräter]’ and ‘strangers’. With the anti-imperialistic turn, then, the KPD did not merely ‘nationalize’ the German working class. Rather, the KPD ‘classified’ what it saw as oppressed peoples, nations or ethnic groups, so that they were understood as a collective to play a role in a worldwide ‘class struggle’. In the case of the Middle East, it was the ‘Jews’ who were the capitalists and therefore anational, non-productive parasites, while the Rote Fahne presented the Arabs as the working class, productive, and the ‘real nation’.

The German communists should have criticized such a worldview, because it ignored the conflicts inside a society and considered the Arab communities as ‘volkish communities’. Instead, such a volkish way of perceiving the Arab community in Palestine became the basic feature of antizionist anti-imperialism. In doing so, the KPD turned its back on any powerful critique of conflicts between classes inside the so-called ‘oppressed peoples’, and, ironically, it was through the ‘internationalism’ of the German Communist Party that it became nationalistic and antisemitic.

Again, I would like to emphasize that if Leftists identify ‘Zionism’ with imperialism today, they do so with knowledge of WW II and the Shoah. Therefore, antisemitic anti-Zionism today is also rooted by ‘secondary antisemitism’. However, the identification of Zionism with National Socialism was not a ‘new antisemitic anti-Zionism in the early 1980s’. (64) It was easy to identify ‘Zionism’ with National Socialism after 1945, however, because communists had already in the 1920s identified ‘Jews’ with exploitation, conspiracy, power, with capitalism, with imperialism and fascism. It did not require the Six-Day War to see the state of the Jews this way. The judgement on Israel had already been passed – twenty years before Israel was founded and ten years before the Shoah.

Olaf Kistenmacher is working on a PhD titled ‘Labour fetish and “Jewish Capital”. Antisemitic Forms of Thought in the German Communist Party (KPD) in Weimar Republic, 1918-1933 (Arbeitsfetisch und “Judenkapital”. Antisemitische Denkformen in der KPD der Weimarer Republik, 1918-1933)’. The German version of the paper above is published online on the website of the Rote Ruhr-Uni Bochum or of the Hamburger Studienbibliothek.

(*) This paper is based on my last contribution to Engage journal # 2, titled ‘From “Judas” to “Jewish Capital”’, Kistenmacher 2006.

I thank Fred David Copley, New York City, for translating the quotations.


(1) Der Zweite Kongreß der Kommunistischen Internationale. Protokoll der Verhandlungen vom 19. Juli in Petrograd und vom 23. Juli bis 7. August 1920 in Moskau, cited in: Keßler 1993, p. 41.
(2) Examples for this approach are Holz 2001, p. 431-82; Mertens 1995, Poliakov 1992, Rabinovici, Doron/Speck/Sznaider 2004, Volkov 2000, Weiß 2005, Wistrich 1990.
(3) Poliakov 1992, Wistrich 1985. Weitere Literatur zum Anti-Zionismus nach 1945?
(4)”>Rensmann 1998, 231-335, Ulmer 2002.
For the history of the concept ‘secondary antisemitism’ see also Adorno 1964. The Frankfurt School founded the concept to distinguish between antisemitism before 1933 and antisemitism after the Shoah. The post-Shoah antisemitism differed from the older forms, because the old stereotypes – f. e. ‘Jews’ are rich, powerful, and rule the world in a hidden conspiracy – are transformed and connected with a denial or an ‘explanation’ of the Shoah. A typical secondary antisemitism argument is that the ‘Jews’ provoked the Shoah, because the Shoah became an imprtant reason after 1945 to found the state Israel.
(5) According to Robert Wistrich, ‘it is precisely the equation of Zionism with Nazism’ which is ‘the most characteristic mode of the new antisemitic anti-Zionism in the early 1980s’ (Wistrich 1990, p. 215).
(6) Central Committee (Zentralkommitee, ZK) of the KPD 1932, p. 284-5.
(7) See also Kessler 2005, Wein 2003.
(8) Anti-Zionism of socialists and communists before 1948 has been hardly approached yet. It is, however, worth to analyze the anti-Zionism in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and to give an explanation for the following facts: ‘The arrests were in two major waves: 1000 Zionist leaders were arrested in September, 1920, while anther 3000 were arrested in September, 1924. The trials were held secretly, many among the arrested sentenced to hard labor and long jail terms.’ (Hen-Tov 1974, p. 40, note 9) Such persecutions have to be interpreted in the context of Lenin’s conflict with the Bundists, the national minorities policy in the mid-1920s, and antisemitic stereotypes.
Even the anti-Zionism of the National Socialists is hardly approached yet. Alex Gruber writes in a short article that analyzes Alfred Rosenberg’s Der staatsfeindliche Zionismus (Zionism, Hostile to the States) from 1922, that Rosenberg argued not only in a racist form against ‘the Jew’, but also against Zionism in an anti-imperialist way, pointing out the ‘Arab protests against the violent Judaification of Palestine’ (Gruber 2004, p. 23). Rosenberg was later the one of the chief ideologues of the Nazis and ran the ’Rosenberg Office’, which was named after him.
(9) Haury 2002, p. 429.
(10) Poliakov 1992, p. 57-8. The Frankfurt School found the term ‘Crypto-Antisemitism’ to denote antisemitic statements that refer to Jews without using the terms ‘Jew’, or ‘Jewish’, and Theodor W. Adorno uses the term in the context of secondary antisemitism.
(11) The Rote Fahne mentioned the existence of a Zionist movement two times before 1925. In 1921, Moses Hess was designated as a ‘pioneer [Vorkämpfer] of socialism and Zionism’ in a review titled ‘The Rabbi of Communists [Der Kommunisten-Rabbi]’ (RF 382, 9 August 1921). A year later the Rote Fahne reported about ‘a Jewish university in Jerusalem’ (RF 256, 3. June 1922; see also Krämer 2003, p. 212-3). This little report is remarkable, because at this time the Rote Fahne did not consist of more than two pages. That it was published without any explanation could be an indication that some members of the editor team were interested in a so-called ‘cultural Zionism’ (Kloke 1990, p. 32).
(12) RF, 25 July 1925.
(13) Traverso 1994, p. 84-5. Kautsky wrote in Are the Jews a Race? (Rasse und Judentum, 1916) that, ‘the Jews are the only race [sic] on earth that has constituted a purely urban population for approximately two thousand years: we now have an almost perfect explanation of Jewish traits. … The uniformity of the artificial environment imparted to the Jews everywhere a uniform mental type, in spite of all the variations in their natural environment, and all the differences in the inherited race elements. If this uniform type should be accepted as a race type, the descendant of the homo alpinus might be designated as the homo urbanus.’ (Kautsky 1914)
(14) Jacobs 1992, p. 23-4. ‘Bernstein’s comments, Kautsky claimed, can be so “construed as to imply that I denied Zionism any justification. This is in no way correct …”’ (Jacobs 1992, p. 23; compare Kautsky 1902).
(15) RF 168, 25 July 1925.
(16) Lenin 1914.
(17) Luxemburg 1908.
(18) ‘Germany, the Newest Colony of England [Deutschland, England neueste Kolonie],’ RF 544, 28 November 1921, also ‘The Colony of Poincaré and Stinnes [Die Kolonie Poincarés und Stinnes’]’, RF 34, 9 April 1924. See Carr 1969, p. 161-72, 182-97.
(19) ‘“Proletarier aller Länder und unterdrückte Völker der Welt, vereinigt euch!“ Von G. Sinowjew’, RF 153, 8 July 1925.
(20) Kloke 1990, p. 24.
(21) ZK of the KPD 1932, p. 285.
(22) Compare Segev 2005, p. 249-69.
(23) Flores 1980, Hen-Tov 1974, Laqueur 1956, p. 73-103.
(24) Segev 2005, p. 125.
(25) Compare Segev, p. 209. ‘It was precisely the strong socialist character that the Zionist settlement in Palestine assumed during this period, closely identified with the Western Social Democratic Labor Movement, that was the deadly enemy of the Comintern throughout the world … Out of the foregoing considerations, the Comintern launched its extensive propaganda campaign against Zionism under the following banner: “Fight against imprialism and against the Zionist and Social Democratic agents of Imperialism.”’ (Hen-Tov 1974, p. 81)
(26) Heller 1932, p. 96. Otto Heller’s fate is typical for communists of Jewish descent. Born in 1897 in Vienna, he was member of the German-Austrian Social Democratic Party, but in 1921 he joined the Communist Party. Since 1926 he worked as a journalist in Berlin. Heller was murdered in March 1945 in the concentration camp Ebensee in Austria.
(27) ZK 1932, p. 284-85 .
(28) Küntzel 2003, p. 15. You find English papers by Matthias Küntzel here.
(29) Stalin 1913.
(30) Heller 1933, p. 186; Weinberg 1998. The Birodidzhan project ended violently in 1937/38, when most of the Jews in Birobidzhan were deported and murdered in the so-called Great Purge. Arno Lustiger argued in Rotbuch: Stalin und die Juden, that although Jews were happily settling in Birobidzhan, the project was from the beginning meant as a strategy against Jewish nationalism. Lustiger 2002, p. 85.
(31) Stalin 1913.
(32) Lenin 1914, Luxemburg 1913.
(33) RF 175, 2 August 1925.
(34) Programm zur nationalen und sozialen Befreiung des deutschen Volkes, RF 197, 24 August 1930; Berthold 1956. The German concept ‘Befreiungsbewegung’ was not clear and therefor was perfectly suited for the KPD to fail to differentiate between ‘the people’, the ‘working class’, and ‘the proletariat’. If German communists spoke about ‘liberation [befreiung]’ it was not clear if they meant the struggle against imperialistic or colonial oppression or struggle for national self-determination. In 1923, the KPD went so far to certify the German bourgeoisie playing an ‘objective revolutionary’ role ‘in spite of itself’ against the French occupation in the Ruhr struggle (Thalheimer 1923, p. 107-10; Carr 1969, p. 167-8).
(35) A. N.: Die Ursachen der Kämpfe in Palästina, RF 164, 28 August 1929.
(36) ‘The people were real peasents. If they would not have spoken Jewish, you would not have guessed to be with Jews. Especially the grandmother made the impression of a polid farmer’s wife.’ Heller 1932, p. 293; Weinberg 1998.
(37) Haury 2002, p. 94; Holz 2001, p. 456.
(38) RF 167, 31 August 1929.
(39) RF 164, 28 August 1929.
(40) Imprecorr 116 (1928), line 2279, reprinted in: Dokumente 1997, p. 20.
(41) To add a fourth point, the Arabs did not only attack Jews, but Jewish communists. In 1923, the Imprecorr reported that the ‘native population’ attacked a demonstration of Jewish Communists. ‘On the 1st of May 1921 the Communists organized a demonstration that was attacked by members of the yellow trade unions. The native population whose pogromic flames were fanned for a long time by British and French provocateurs and their own nationalists and who did not understand the point of the demonstration/manifestation attacked the demonstrators and, then, moved to a general pogrom against the Jews.’ (Awigdur: Die Arbeiterbewegung in Palästina, Inprekorr 29 (1923), S. 216-217, reprinted in: Dokumente 1997: 4; compare Segev 2005, p. 176-7)
(42) RF 92, 20 April 1927.
(43) Die Ursachen der Kämpfe in Palästina, RF 164, 28 August 1929.
(44) Nordpalästina in den Händen der aufständischen Araber / Neue blutige Kämpfe in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa und an der Grenze Transjordaniens – Verbrüderungsdemonstrationen mit den Aufständischen in Syrien und Aegypten, RF 165, 29 August 1929.
(45) Macdonalds Gemetzel in Palästina / Standrecht in Haifa – Schiffsbombardement gegen Aufständische – Labourregierung verspricht Förderung der Zionisten zur Unterdrückung der Araber, RF 166, 30 August 1929.
(46) Gegen den britischen Imperialismus und seine zionistischen Agenten in Palästina! Manifest der Liga gegen Imperialismus, RF 167, 31 August 1929.
(47) Die Araber im Vormarsch / Arabische Streitkräfte aus Syrien überschreiten die Grenze – Palästina-Demonstrationen in Bagdad – Macdonalds Truppen morden weiter] (RF 168, 1 September 1929.
(48) Kämpfe in Nordpalästina, RF 169, 3 September 1929.
(49) Solidarisch mit dem Araberaufstand! / Kundgebung der Anti-Imperialistischen Liga, RF 170, 4 September 1929.
(50) Palästinas Befreiungskampf, Von Albert Norden, RF 172, 6. September 1929.
(51) RF 168, 25 July 1925.
(52) RF 167, 31 August 1929.
(53) Der internationale Schacher um die Kolonie Deutschland, RF 9, 26 February 1923. See also ‘The Colony of Poincaré and Stinnes [Die Kolonie Poincarés und Stinnes],’ RF 34, 9 April 1924.
The picture of the German people exploited by ‘international haggling’ was affirmed again by the second program of the KPD, the Programm zur nationalen und sozialen Befreiung des deutschen Volkes (Program of the KPD for the National and Social Liberation of the German People). Programm zur nationalen und sozialen Befreiung des deutschen Volkes, RF 197, 24 August 1930; Berthold 1956.
(54) Arbeiterfeinde sind Führer des Zionismus!, RF 165, 29 August 1929.
(55) Hyamson 1976, p. 121, see Segev 2005, 314-27.
(56) Hen-Tov 1974, Kiefer 2002, Küntzel 2003.
(57) ‘Stahlhelmlümmel? Nein, ein Mitglied der jüdisch-faschistischen Legion in Jerusalem’, RF 164, 28 August 1929.
(58) Compare RF 165, 29 August 1929. Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky founded the Jewish Legion, but according to Segev, it no longer existed in the beginning of the 1920s (Segev, p. 181). In 1925, Jabotinsky founded the Revisionist Party and demanded a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan River (Krämer 2003, p. 182, 226).
(59) Der Araberaufstand wächst!, RF 164, 28 August 1929.
(60) J. B.: Das Blutbad im “Heiligen Lande” [The Bloodbath in the ‘Holy Land’], in: Imprekorr 86 (1929): 2092-93, in: Dokumente 1997, p. 30.
(61) The fact that the KPD spoke of Arabs as ‘natives’ leads to the problem of racism within the communist party. This, however, is beyond the aim of this paper. Of course, the KPD would not have used the term for the German working class, though it was not called into question that Germany ‘belonged’ to the Germans.
(62) ZK 1932, p. 284-85.
(63) The anti-Zionism in the Soviet Union was already in the 1920s violent. Thousands of ‘Zionists’ were arrested or deported to the Gulag. See above, note 8.
(64) Wistrich 1990, p. 215.


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