From ‘Judas’ to ‘Jewish Capital’: Antisemitic Forms of Thought in the German Communist Party (KPD) in the Weimar Republic, 1918-1933 – Olaf Kistenmacher – Engage Journal – Issue 2 – May 2006

On the occasion of an event initiated by the KPD, Wofür starb Schlageter? Kommunismus, Faschismus und die politische Entscheidung der Studenten [Why did Schlageter die? Communism, fascism and the students’ political decision] in Berlin in the summer of 1923, Ruth Fischer, who was the head of the party’s Zentrale [Central], in an attempt to win over to the KPD the nationalist students who had gathered there, used this argument:

“You cry out against Jewish capital [Judenkapital(2)], gentlemen? Whoever condemns Jewish capital, gentlemen, is already engaged in the class struggle, even though he doesn’t realize it. You are against Jewish capital and want to eliminate the stock manipulators. Rightly so. Trample the Jewish capitalists under foot, hang them from the street-lamps, stamp them out. But what do you want to do with the large capitalists, the Klöckner, Stinnes…?”(3)

The council communist Franz Pfemfert reported this as an eyewitness in his journal Die Aktion [The Action], and the social-democratic daily newspaper Vorwärts [Forward] cited his report in August 1923 without contradiction. Researchers in the field consider Fischer’s remark a notorious example of antisemitism(4) in the KPD of the Weimar Republic, and it is examined in almost all publications on the topic. The agitation campaign was embedded in the so-called Schlageter phase, as the party leadership sought to forge common political strategies and goals with right wing, nationalist and populist politicians.

At this time, Karl Radek who was the representative of the Russian Communist Party in Germany held his speech before the Expanded Executive of the Comintern in honour of the fascist Albert Leo Schlageter, who had been executed by the French military in the Ruhrkampf and whose name had become in a few weeks a symbol of the revival of German national honour. During this phase, the Rote Fahne [Red Flag], the daily newpaper of the German communist party, went so far as to publish contributions by völkisch nationalists like Count Ernst of Reventlow.

Some have explained Fischer’s statement by the fact that the KPD ‘attempted’ to ‘adapt itself to the antisemitic trains of thought of the right’. Edmund Silberner, for example, one of the first historians on antisemitism on the political left who states that a tradition of a ‘worker’s anti-Semitism’ exists that started with Karl Marx’s On The Jewish Question describes the Schlageter phase in these words, ‘In this short phase, lasting some two months, the KPD attempted to adapt itself as much to the nationalist as to the antisemitic trains of thought of the right. An effort was made to show the nationalists that the Jewish question did not, in fact, divide them from the communists.’(5)

Just as quickly, according to the usual portrayal in hitherto existing research, the KPD now also abandoned this course of action. Enzo Traverso states in The Marxists and the Jewish Question. The History of a Debate (1843-1943), ‘The consequence … was the appearance, in Berlin, of a certain numbers of posters which combined the swastika and the Soviet star: the limits had been exceeded and the KPD was obliged to abandon this chauvinistic and anti-Semitic language.’(6)

Nevertheless, Susanne Wein points out in a unpublished M. A. thesis that antisemitic remarks and portrayals were present in the communist press, not only in crisis times such as 1923 or 1930-1933, but rather continually, thus also in the so-called ‘phase of stability’ from 1924 to 1928.(7) This indicates a deeper underlying connection between antisemitic stereotypes and the KPD’s representations of ‘work’ and ‘honest work’, of belonging to the working class and to the nation, and of exploitation and dominion.

The analysis of this connection will demonstrate that the KPD of the Weimar Republic, in spite of its supposed internationalist self-conception, was in a specific way nationalist.
The following analysis, although methodologically oriented toward discourse analysis, draws inspiration from an impulse in Critical Theory. In a short article on Anti-Semitism and National Socialism Moishe Postone interprets modern antisemitism as an ‘particularly pernicious fetish form’.(8)

The mechanisms of power of modern capitalism have been perceived, in Marx’s terminology, in ‘fetishized’, and thus in ‘reified’ or ‘personified’ form. A ‘fetishized “anti-capitalism”’, accordingly, would be directed only against certain forms of appearance of capitalist modernity – money, capital, the capitalists. ‘Jews’ were perceived by the National Socialists as personifications of all that which in modern capitalism appears as ‘international’, ‘conspiratorial’, ‘immensely powerful’ and ‘intangible’ threat.(9)

In ‘modern’ anti-Semitism [the power attributed to the Jews] is mysteriously, intangible, abstract and universal. … [A] careful examination of the modern anti-Semitic worldview reveals that it is a form of thought in which the rapid development of industrial capitalism with all of its social ramifications is personified and identified as the Jew. It is not that the Jews merely were considered to be the owners of money, as in traditional anti-Semitism, but that they were held responsible for economic crises and identified with the range of social restructuring and dislocation resulting from rapid industrialization: explosive urbanization, the decline of traditional social classes and strata, the emergence of a large, increasingly organized industrial proletariat, etc. In other words, the abstract domination of capital, which – particularly with rapid industrialization – caught people up in a web of dynamic forces they could not understand, became perceived as the domination of International Jewry.(10)

Upon this basis the catchphrase ‘personified “anti-capitalism”’ has gained currency in recent years in the discussions of the radical left in Germany – whereby, however, an important element has been left out. The example of Ruth Fischer shows, namely, that personification alone is not yet antisemitic; she personified capital twice: once with the concept of ‘Jewish capital’ and a second time with the names of the ‘large capitalists’, ‘Stinnes, Klöckner’. Both images stood for capitalist relations. Nonetheless, only the concept of ‘Jewish capital’ was antisemitic, for this concept not only personified but also racialised capital.

By means of this racialisation, capitalism was made not only into a alienated, but a ‘foreign’ form of exploitation in which ‘the worker’ was oppressed and exploited by the ‘stranger’, by the ‘foreigner’, and by ‘international haggling’. Fischer supplied no names, but instead identified ‘Jewish capital’ with the ‘stock manipulators’ and compared it in its economic power with the ‘large capitalists’. She thus confirmed the conspiracy theory stereotype of the mighty, yet simultaneously hidden, and, for this reason, unknown, ‘rich Jews’, who increase their wealth by the sole means of the accumulation of surplus value and without themselves ever productively working.(11)

Although I emphasize the racialising element in modern antisemitism, Postone’s distinction between antisemitism and other forms of racism is equally conducive for my analysis:

Probably all forms of racism attribute potential power to the other. This power, however, is usually concrete – material or sexual – the power of the oppressed (as repressed), of the ‘Untermenschen.’ The power attributed to the Jews is not only much greater and ‘real,’ as opposed to potential, it is different. … It stands behind phenomena, but is not identical with them. Its source is therefore hidden – conspirational. The Jews represent an immensely powerful, intangible, international conspiracy.(12)

Certainly ‘the Jews’ were regarded in populist antisemitic discourse as dirty, cowardly and lesser, as carriers of diseases from which the cultivated human being would be free. Even so, they were perceived at the same time as the personification of a certain superiority. An immense intelligence was imputed to them, as if they could not only master other groups, but had already done so, albeit in a hidden, invisible and conspiratorial manner. ‘Jews’ were identified not only with the oppressed, but also with the ruling classes – this is especially important for understanding a political movement like the KPD that directed itself against the ruling system and its proxies.

From picture to world view: ‘Judas’, ‘Judas payment’, ‘Judases’
It would be easy to evaluate antisemitism if antisemitic discourse had clearly delineated boundaries. Although, naturally, there are straightforwardly antisemitic statements, antisemitic discourse is not definable unequivocally, and its borders are fluid. The racialisation of the enemy as ‘Jews’ can be viewed first on a rather literary and metaphorical level.
On Sunday,28 March 1920, the following appeared in the Rote Fahne under the title Noske, the Judas [Noske, der Judas]:

“No, the comparison is not correct. For, when Judas betrayed Jesus and the Pharisees handed him over to the Romans, and the Romans crucified him, Judas hanged himself at the very time and place in which he turned Jesus over to the enemy. Noske, however, still lives. […] Noske must have had a criminal or a voluptuary among his forefathers. And this ancestor acted through him. You only need look at his skull in order to recognize his criminality.”(13)

In this article, the comparison with the biblical figure is indeed characterized as inadmissible; nonetheless, that being ‘Judas’ and betrayal belong together appears as a presupposed matter of fact. The racist explanation of Noske’s criminality in the final sentence of the citation must be taken more seriously than you at first may be inclined to do, even though it appears to be meant ironically. The conviction that behaviours are congenital and the idea that both good and bad people can be bred were not generally dismissed on the left in the 1920’s, but rather were understood, to some degree, as the newest scientific knowledge, which could be helpful in the construction of a socialist state.(14)

That Jewish people were a ‘race’ was indeed, on one hand, criticized within the socialist and communist left of the early twentieth century, but on the other hand the ABC of Communism by Nikolai I. Bukharin and Evgenii A. Preobrazhenskii, which was published in German in 1920 and which provided the foundation for the world picture for KPD members in the Weimar Republic, reported the following about antisemitism:

‘§ 60. Antisemitism and the Proletariat’. One of the worst forms of national emnity is antisemitism, that is to say, racial hostility towards the Jews, who belongs to the Semitic stock [Rasse] (of which the Arabs form another great branch).’(15)

According to this definition, ‘Jews’ indeed constituted no race of their own, as populist antisemites maintained, but they were held to belong with Arabs in a proper ‘Semitic race [Rasse]’ and consequently would be ‘strangers’ in both Germany and the Soviet Union.

In Noske, the Judas, no Jewish person was called by the traditional anti-Judaistic insult. The position of the name ‘Judas’ in the antisemitic discourse of the 19th and 20th centuries is not simple to determine, but, in any case, populist antisemites have used not only the expressions ‘Judah’ (‘Juda’) and ‘Jews’ (‘Juden’), but also the name ‘Judas’. In 1919, a book authored by a National Socialist appeared with the title, Judas, the Global Enemy: What Everyone Must Know about the Jews: The Jewish Question as a Question of Humanity and Its Solution in the Light of the Truth (Judas, der Weltfeind. Was jeder über die Juden wissen muß. Die Judenfrage als Menschheitsfrage und ihre Lösung im Lichte der Wahrheit)(16).

In 1927 a Jewish cemetery was desecrated with swastikas and the inscription, ‘Judas Iscariot’(17). The name ‘Judas’ was often used in the Rote Fahne, while other biblical names were hardly used at all. In November 1932 the Rote Fahne also named Adolf Hitler the ‘Judas of South Tyrol’, and on 31 January 1933 a two fingers’ width headline directed against the SPD read, of all things, ‘Judas Iscariots!’.

The use of the originally Christian ‘Judas’ stereotype for dishonourable, mercenary and, to some extent, congenital traitors would have developed no potency in communist thinking had it not filled a gap in the worldview. Capitalist relations of power were understood not as a structural power, but rather “as overt interpersonal relations” of the ‘capitalists’ over the workers.(19)

Likewise, the ‘workers’ were generally attributed a communistic attitude. Consistent with this, the aim of the KPD was to identify being a worker and the party. Workers who acted against the political intentions of the KPD fell prey, according to this conception, not to the temptation of becoming happy within capitalist society, but rather were, according to the depiction by the Rote Fahne, merely not courageous and honourable enough to fight for their own actual communist position, in the absence of which they were mercenary, even corruptible–like ‘Judas’.

The expression ‘Judas’ was not the only expression used for the defamation of political enemies. A few days after the appearance of the title Noske, the Judas, came the title, The Eternal Jew. Under this title, the following was reported about the Freikorp troup of Ehrhardt:

“Ehrhardt and his henchmen draw towards Lockstedt. They remain stuck in transit, supposedly because armed workers do not want to let them through; in reality, because they, in open, yet secret, agreement with the Müller government, want to crush the threatening general strike in Berlin. Now on 1 April they are once again to migrate from Döberitz to Lockstedt, as officially reported, as soon as the disagreements between the workers and the officials of the railroad district of Altona are settled. Ehrhardt wanders thus here and there through Germany, an Ahasver with armoured cars and swastikas on his helmet.”(18)

The argumentation of the political Right was to be taken ironically and was therefore only reversed – while association members fulminated against ‘the Jews’, they themself were designated by the Rote Fahne as ‘Jews’. Again, no Jewish person was called ‘the Eternal Jew’. Yet with this strategy the underlying stereotyping was reproduced, that ‘the Jew’ is an enemy, that ‘the Jew’ combats the ‘worker’ and that he wanders about as ‘Ahasver’, because he has no place in which he belongs.

Anti-Jewish Context
The historical situation in which expressions from the anti-Jewish discourse of the 19th and 20th centuries are used for defamatory purposes must also be taken into consideration. For instance, at the same time that the Rote Fahneran the headline The Eternal Jew, the Scheunenviertel quarter of Berlin was searched and approximately 300 Jews from this quarter were imprisoned, with other ‘foreigners’ (‘Ausländer’) in ‘concentration camps’.

The Rote Fahne’s report of this event showed that it stood in solidarity with the Jews in so far as they belonged to the lower social classes and were perceived as ‘foreigners’ from eastern Europe – precisely the manner in which the daily newspaper of the KPD reported itself in solidarity with the revolt of the ‘negroes’ (‘Neger’) against their oppression.(20)20 At the same time, they nonetheless presented a peculiar enmity toward the so-called strangers of the upper classes and the ‘likeminded business-capable residents’. On 8 March 1920, the Rote Fahne explained under the headline Concentration Camps for Foreigners:

“Germany is overrun by a pack of jackals, who, in league with likeminded business-capable residents, drive a usurious and shameful trade with the last movable possessions of ruined households. But it is not against these elements that the scorn of the Ebert republic or of the German bourgeoisie is directed. Poor devils, who are broken to pieces by the capitalistic witches’ Sabbath, driven from home or homeland, foreigners with a police resistant political conviction, are expected, after the will of the Ebert government, to be imprisoned like a flock of sheep in concentration camps. Does the German proletariat wish to tolerate quietly this vileness as well?”(21)

This form of argumentation recurred in the following years and became stronger during the Schlageter events of 1923, during which the Rote Fahne ran, among others, the headline International Haggling over the Germany Colony.(22) It is noteworthy that already in the article from 1920 the communists stood not for internationalism or international solidarity, but rather for the national and for the nation. Their anti-capitalism was directed, as just cited, against the ‘foreign pack of jackals’ who ‘in league with likeminded business-capable residents’ would suck away Germany’s ‘ruined households’.

The KPD had no concept of capitalist socialization, in which the capitalist would be the ‘economic character mask’ (Karl Marx) of capital. The Rote Fahne made the capitalist into the image of the enemy, into which it alienated and ‘expatriated’ (‘ver-fremdete) large capitalists like Hugo Stinnes, made them into strangers, into foreigners, and explicitly portrayed them as not belonging to the nation. Under the title Profiteers, Princes and Troublesome Foreigners, the Rote Fahne wrote already in 1920,

‘The German revolutionary proletariat has every reason to say with complete clarity to the republican government, “for us the Russian companions are not foreigners, but rather the German capitalists are. And your foreigners are not troublesome to us, but rather the capital-diverting German princes are.”’(23)

Thus was the ‘Judas’-Traitor motif transferred in its totality onto ‘the capitalists’. They were ‘traitors’ because they would have betrayed the wellbeing of the people, of the nation, and to this extent they were ‘traitors to the country’ and ‘anti-national’. In this way, the party that wanted to protect the simple folk [Leute] could also just as well become the party that protected the people [Volk]. Radek’s formula in his ‘Schlageter speech’ makes clear how simple this transference was to make: ‘The concern of the people [Volk] being made the concern of the nation makes the concern of the nation the concern of the people‘.(24) In other words, the KPD understood itself as the party which wanted to protect ‘labour’ or ‘work’ from ‘capital’ (‘labour’ and ‘work’ are the same term in German: Arbeit).

Yet the potential of labour, labour power, was fetishised, naturalised as a personal capacity of ‘the worker’, and therefore it could also just as well become nationalised or racialised into the ‘labour’ of Germans, of the ‘German people’, and into ‘German labour’. Moreover, it was typical to portray the working class both in texts and in pictures as a single large and powerful worker. Because ‘labour’ (Arbeit) was thought of as more noble than physical work (Arbeit), ‘exploitation’ was also understood as an attack on the body ‘of the workers’ (The Haggling over the German Labour Power, No More Haggling over the Skin of the Proletarians!)(25).

‘Alienation’ could therefore also mean that this body had its life sucked out by foreigners. It was a small additional step to nationalise labour power, which was represented as a body (and in doing so the proletariat ‘without a homeland’ (‘vaterlandslose’) needed to differentiate itself officially from the nationalism of the reactionaries and conservatives). ‘International haggling’ appeared as a threat to the ‘Germany Colony’, and also from within Germany the people were threatened by ‘foreigners’ and ‘anti-national’ forces.(26) With the second program since the party’s founding, the Program of the KPD for the National and Social Liberation of the German People of 1930, social and national liberation were unified.(27)

Personification of Capital and of Capitalism
The identification of capital with the ‘Jew’, which could be seen as supported by Marx’s portrayal of the ‘real Jew’ in On The Jewish Question(28)28, also appears in those attempts by the KPD to agitate against fascist gatherings. In 1923 Hermann Remmele, a member of the Zentrale of the KPD, emphasised the personification of the modern power of money in ‘the Jews’; in 1930 he used the same image once again. The Rote Fahne reproduced the Speech of Comrade Remmele in the Fascist Gathering in Stuttgart from 1923, in which he designated antisemitism as understandable and gave the following explanation:

“I can very easily conceive how this antisemitism came about. One need only once go to the Stuttgart cattle market or to the slaughter house in order to see there how the cattle handlers, who are mostly Jewish, buy up the cattle at any price, while the Stuttgart butchers have to go away empty-handed, because they simply do not have enough money to buy cattle. (Very true! among the fascists) That an Jews-hatred [Judenhaß] should develop there in the middle classes, in the circles of the handlers and tradesmen, is conceivable. These petty bourgeois classes today are often impoverished in precisely the same way … as the working class. Yet the actual causes of this impoverishment lie elsewhere; they lie in the tremendously increasing inflation, of which I am about to speak.”(29)

Remmele’s argumentation was intended to be antisemitic itself, but it could only make sense if one assumed the antisemitic stereotype. Though he didn’t say that the ‘Jews’ are responsible for the impoverishment, but saying that the inflation did cause it, in Remmele’s line of arguing the ‘Jews’ are the profiteers of the inflation. Indeed, according to the argument, the petty bourgeois classes are just as impoverished as the working class, but one group of people are exempted from the inflation of 1923 and have so much money that they can ‘buy up the cattle at any price’: ‘the Jews’. Had the cattle handlers, who allegedly ‘are mostly Jewish’, really purchased at ‘any price’, not only would they have acted in an economically absurd manner, they would have, at the least, re-established the non-Jewish, German farmer class.

In 1930 the KPD organised gatherings together with the NSDAP. For Remmele, once again ‘the Jew’ was rich and powerful; the point of his argument consisted in the conspiracy theory assertion that a single ‘rich and powerful Jew’ stood behind the NSDAP and could from there pull the stings of power:

“’Germany awake! Judah die off!’ goes the national-socialist war cry, with which they rush against the revolutionary workers, when they feel themselves to be in superior numbers or under the protection of the social-fascist Zörgiebel police. Under the cloak of anti-Jewish agitation [Judenhetze] they attempt to conceal their counter-revolutionary mortal hostility to the revolutionary proletariat. Yet in recent times the second half of the war cry has disappeared. And that is not by accident. Accordingly, the regional leader [Gauleiter] of Berlin, Dr. Goebbels, among others, has issued a party order that the cry ‘Judah die off’ in future may no longer be used. Soon afterwards the bourgeois press reported that the national-socialist regional leadership obtained a large amount of money, placed at its disposal by the Jew Jakob Goldschmidt, a multi-millionaire and general director of the Danatbank.”(30)

In the argument from 1923, Remmele presented ‘the Jews’ as the catalysts of impoverishment; in the argument of 1930, it was the single ‘Jew’, that is, the one mentioned by name, who not only was portrayed as more powerful than the Nazi party, but also as acting even against his own interests and, therefore, acting unfathomably wickedly. For Remmele, ‘the Jew’ was just not a normal person, as the members of the KPD were. That ‘Jewish capital’ was ‘behind’ the Nazis or that the Nazis and ‘Jewish capital’ belonged together were strategies of the Rote Fahne, which it revived forcefully after 1929:

– Nazi Lead Candidate Scrounges off a Jewish Banker(31),
– Jewish Department Store Owner Finances Nazi Propaganda(32),
– Judah Will Not Die Out!/Nazi Loans for Department Stores/ Thus Looks the Struggle of the Nazis Against Interest Servitude [Zinsknechtschaft] and Jewish Department Store Capital in Reality(33),
– The Declaration of Love of Large Banker Solmssen (Solomonsohn) for the Nazis. The Central Association of the German Bank and Banker Industry Needs the National-Socialists as Prize Fencer for the Profits of the Interest Robbers [Zinsräuber](34),
– Dedicated to the Coward Goebbels […] ‘The ‘eternal Jew’ Goebbels’(35),
– Hitler Proclaims the Rescue of the Rich Jews(36),
– Hitler the Agent of Morgan and Rothschild(37),
– Nazis for Jewish Capital [jüdisches Kapital](38).

The efficacy of such titles is shown by the fact that there were hardly any other ‘images of Jews’ in the last years of the Weimar Republic, hardly any other situations in which Jewish people were mentioned. In 1923, for the 40th anniversary of Karl Marx’s death, the Rote Fahne printed an excerpt from the second part of On the Jewish Question (Zur Judenfrage), in which the ‘real Jew’ is characterised by ‘self-interest’, ‘huckstering’ and ‘money’.(39)

The conclusion of the reproduction reads, ‘The social emancipation of the Jew is the emancipation of society from Judaism‘.(40) By the addition of a small subtitle, the Rote Fahne gave the excerpt a meaning that Marx certainly could not have intended. As subtitle under Karl Marx: On the Jewish Question stood The National-Socialists in the Family Album. The KPD indicated to its populist-fascist rivals that it, too, struggled for the ‘emancipation of society from Judaism’.(41)

But how did the depiction of the alleged might of ‘the Jews’ fit with the visible threat to Jewish people in the Weimar Republic? A caricature from the same year achieves the synthesis, and if this caricature were as well known as the statement by Ruth Fischer, it would have been cited as an equally pregnant example of the antisemitism of the Weimar KPD. The caricature appeared on 29 July 1923 in the special ‘Anti-fascist Day’ edition of the Rote Fahne, which was tellingly titled Deutschlands Weg [Germany’s Path]. The caricature bore the title Money Does Not Stink, Does It?: Their Antisemitism Looks Like This!, under which stood ‘Swastika [Hakenkreuz] parade before hooknoses [Hakennasen] in Vienna, a true occurrence’. A procession of National-Socialists was depicted with swastikas on their helmets and armbands. At the edge of the parade, in the foreground, are two ‘Jews’ in elegant clothing giving the military greeting, their coats decorated with medals. They have large, hooked noses, bulging lips and a two-faced eyes beneath half closed eyelids. Both are unshaven and appear poor, in spite of the clothes and elegant shoes. Beneath the caricature was written:

“The industrial association in Vienna pays vast amounts of money to the National-Socialists in that very place, who are known to work hand in hand with Hitler and Horthy. At the last swastika-bearer and vanguard parade, a delegation of Jewish large industrialists were present (among them Kolischer and Herzfelder), who viewed for themselves what was proffered them for their money. The capitalist press was satisfied.”(42)

The special edition Germany’s Path was addressed to ‘all who have fallen into the clutches of the “populists” [“Völkischen”] or threaten to fall’. The strategy which was used in 1923 was taken up again, as already cited, from the end of the 1920’s. The Rote Fahne continued to maintain that Nazis and ‘Jewish capital’ belonged together, that ‘Jewish capital’ would be ‘behind’ the Nazis and that the antisemitism of the NSDAP was accordingly not in earnest.

For although the KPD affected to criticise the antisemitism of the National-Socialists with the caricature in Germany’s Path, it not only reproduced in its supposed critique the prevailing racist stereotype of ‘Jewish’ features, but also even gave ‘the Jews’ the blame for the strengthening of the National-Socialist movement.

On account of the personification of capitalism as ‘the Jews’ and on account of the communist mindset, which not only traced all appearances of modernity back to capitalism, but also portrayed the capitalist mechanisms of power as, above all, “overt interpersonal relations”, national socialism was perceived, not only as a consequence of capitalism, but even as the consequence of the direct impact of ‘capitalists’ – and in Germany’s Path, that meant the impact of the ‘Jewish large industrialists’. Because the caricature was only supposed to address the connection to antisemitism, no one besides the ‘Jewish’ money donors was portrayed.

In a situation, therefore, in which a populist and antisemitic movement gained support and the threat to Jewish people increased, the KPD reacted not only with a lack of solidarity, but rather with the antisemitic allegation that the ‘Jews’ themselves were to blame for this development. From this portrayal the communists of the Weimar Republic were intended to recognize that they had two enemies: the National-Socialists and ‘Jewish large industry’, or, as Ruth Fischer expressed it, ‘Jewish capital’ (‘Judenkapital’).

The pogrom of Berlin’s Scheunenviertel quarter and the temporary end of the KPD
For the KPD and the Rote Fahne, the year 1923 ended with a half-year ban. For Jewish people in the Weimar Republic, 1923 ended with a frightening level of antisemitic violence. The pogrom in the Scheunenviertel quarter of Berlin that broke out at the 5th of November 1923 lasted for more than two days. People were accosted openly in the streets, stripped and robbed, jeered at and chased through the streets wearing only their undergarments. The attackers intruded into businesses and apartments, robbed and rioted. Automobiles were stopped and the passengers beaten. This plundering was clearly directed exclusively against the Jewish people of the Berlin agricultural quarter: ‘Non-Jewish business owners labelled their stores with unmistakeable signboards, on which they identified themselves as “Christian merchants”, in order to protect themselves from inadvertent plundering.’(43)

Indeed, populist agitators were held responsible for the pogrom, yet the relevance of populist agitation to the outbreak of violence is contested. Those involved in the spread of antisemitism in the Weimar Republic did not need first to be told who was to be held responsible for the economic crisis.(44)

That these riots were understood as an ‘anti-capitalistic’ action and that voters for the SPD and KPD could also have taken part in them, as the historian Reiner Zilkenat asserts(45), makes clear the warning, which Vorwärts, the central organ of the SPD, published under the title Augen auf! [Eyes open!] on the morning after the first riots:

“Workers, look at the men who incite you to violent actions! German populist agitators have whipped up the misguided masses to pogroms. The great storm upon the Jewish quarter of Berlin has been carefully prepared with calm reckoning by the German-populist demagogues in order to exacerbate catastrophically the confused political situation in Germany and to render the masses useful to the dark purposes of fascism. […] Workers! Comrades! You will not deal with capitalist exploitation by plundering the Jews. If today Kohn can no longer practice usury, tomorrow Thyssen and Stinnes will practice usury all the more. The Jewish as well as the Christian exploiter, the black Jew as well as the white, will only fall when capitalism falls. Only an intervention at the roots of the capitalist economy of exploitation can save the German people.”(46)

On 8 November 1923 Vorwärts assigned a share of the responsibility for the pogrom to the KPD and, especially, Ruth Fischer’s remark.(47) The Rote Fahne, which appeared irregularly in November 1923 (and was prohibited shortly thereafter), mentioned this event only briefly on 22 November 1923, and attributed it to the ‘declining petty bourgeoisie’.(48)

The KPD remained banned until the spring of 1924. As I have shown, it did not relinquish its use of the anti-Jewish stereotype after 1923. One must measure the stance of the KPD and the behaviour of its members against the demands of their spiritual fathers. In the 19th century, Friedrich Engels had already formulated the requirement for the proletariat that workers ‘could have nothing to do’ with antisemitism.(49)

In March 1919 Vladimir Ilyich Lenin had called in Russia for the workers to fight against the antisemitic threat alongside the Jewish men and women who were threatened by the czarist White Guard.(50) The KPD could make no such claim. It did not protect the Jewish women and men in the Berlin Scheunenviertel quarter. But not only that, despite its accusations against the antisemitism of other parties or against the reports of anti-Jewish pogroms in Poland or Soviet Russia, the KPD collaborated in the antisemitic discourse of the Weimar Republic, according to which ‘Jews’ were hostile enemies because, ‘as Jews’, they had bad traits.

In the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, the traditional anti-Jewish stigmatisation was transformed from the ‘rich Jews’ to the modern conspiracy theory, in which ‘Jews’ not only were regarded as rich and powerful, but also personified the entire capitalist society and therefore everything that for a fetishised anti-capitalism must remain unclear. To fight the prevailing antisemitism would have meant to do something in opposition to the identification of ‘Jews’ with unproductive capital and the blaming of economic crises such as that of 1923 on ‘the Jews’. The KPD not only failed to do these things – the KPD confirmed this component of modern antisemitism, reproduced it and consequently featured its discursive power.

Olaf Kistenmacher is working as a guide in the concentration camp memorial Neuengamme in Hamburg. His PhD is 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 this paper will be published this year in Brosch, Matthias, Michael Elm, Norman Geißler, Brigitta Elisa Simbürger and Oliver von Wrochem (eds), Exklusive Solidarität. Linker Antisemitismus in Deutschland. Vom Idealismus zur Antiglobalisierungsbewegung, Berlin: Metropol.

Fred David Copley

(2) In German two terms exist that have to be translated with ‘Jewish Capital’: it is ‘Judenkapital’ and ‘jüdisches Kapital’. The term ‘jüdisches Kapital’ was often used in the papers of the KPD, while a term as ‘Judenkapital’ was mainly used by nationalist, völkisch groups. So it is likely that Ruth Fischer took up a term her audience brought into the discussion.
(3) Pfemfert 1923, translated by Niewyk 1971, p. 65, Carr 1969, p. 180, fn 3.
Ruth Fischer pretended 1948 in Stalin and German Communism. A Study in the Origins of the State Party that this “episode has been cited and distorted over and over again in publications on German communism”. But she used the same form of argumentation again. “[…] I was obliged to answer some anti-Semitic remarks. I said that Communism was for fighting Jewish capitalists only if all capitalists, Jewish and Gentile, were the object of the same attack.” (Fischer 1982, p. 283, footnote 16) This line of argumentation is not valid. Firstly, Fischer ignores in Stalin and German Communism that it is not a communist revolution to kill all capitalists. Secondly, she ignores that her völkisches audience wasn’t willing to kill all capitalists, but to exterminate just the ‘Jewish capital [Judenkapital]’.
(4) I follow Ronit Lentin in using the term ‘antisemitism’ rather than ‘anti-Semitism’. This “means taking antisemitism seriously as a thesis without an antithesis, for there is no ‘Semitism’” Lentin 2000, p. 25, footnote 6.
(5) Silberner 1983, p. 267, translation by Fred David Copley.
(6) Traverso 1994, p. 193.
(7) See Wein 2001.
(8) Postone 1980, p. 113.
(9) Postone 1980, p. 112.
(10) Postone 1980, p. 106-7.
(11) By arguing like this Ruth Fischer didn’t identify herself as ‘Jewish’, though she was seen by antisemites as a Jewish woman. So it makes no sense to explain her agitation with a kind of Jewish self-hatred, as Silberner is doing it generally for the Marxian left (Silberner 1983, p. 21).
(12) Postone 1980, p. 106.
(13) Rote Fahne 34, 28 March 1920.
(14) Campbell 1989, p. 350.
(15) Bukharin, Preobrazhenskii 1988, p. 203.
(16) Meyer zu Uptrup 2003, p. 135, footnote 176.
(17) Walter 1999, p. 171.
(19) Postone 1993, p. 125.
(18) Rote Fahne 38, 1 April 1920.
(20) Die Tagung des 4. Weltkongresses. […] Die Negerfrage, Rote Fahne 527, 29 November 1922.
(21) Konzentrationslager für Ausländer, Rote Fahne, 8 March 1920, Niewyk 1971, p. 100.
(22) Der internationale Schacher um die Kolonie Deutschland, Rote Fahne 9, 26 February 1923. ‚Schacher’ (haggling) is a Jiddish word in German, so it has also the connotation that haggling is a typical Jewish habbit.
(23) Schieber, Fürsten und „lästige Ausländer“, Rote Fahne 238, 19 November 1920.
(24) Leo Schlageter, der Wanderer ins Nichts, Rote Fahne 144, 26 June 1923.
(25) Der Schacher um die deutsche Arbeitskraft, Rote Fahne 135, 22 March 1921, Schluß mit dem Schacher um die Haut des Proletariers!, Rote Fahne 377, 29 August 1922.
(26) „Deutschland – eine Kolonie erster Kategorie. […] Rußland – eine Kolonie zweiten Grades“, Die Entente – Sowjetrußland und Deutschland. Von Karl Radek, Rote Fahne 49, 29 January 1922. Der internationale Schacher um die Kolonie Deutschland, Rote Fahne 9, 26 February 1923.
Dollar 80000. Anti-national-Hymne. Dirigent Hugo Stinnes, Rote Fahne 125, 3 June 1923.
(27) Programm der KPD zur nationalen und sozialen Befreiung des deutschen Volkes, Rote Fahne 197, 24 August 1930, see Berthold 1956.
(28) Marx 1843.
(29) Rede des Genossen Remmele in der Faschistenversammlung in Stuttgart, Rote Fahne 183, 10 August 1923. See Traverso 1994, p. 193.
(30) Remmele 1930, p. 13.
(31) Nazi-Spitzenkandidat schnorrt bei jüdischem Bankier, Rote Fahne, 17 November 1929.
(32) Jüdischer Warenhausbesitzer finanziert Nazipropaganda, Rote Fahne 174, 29 July 1930.
(33) Juda soll nicht verrecken! Nazianleihe für Warenhäuser So sieht der Kampf der Nazis gegen Zinsknechtschaft und jüdisches Warenhaus-Kapital in Wirklichkeit aus, Rote Fahne 284, 5 December 1930. The Nationalsocialists used term ‚Zinsknechtschaft’ in Weimar republic to denote their ideas of a ‘Jewish’ economic domination. So the term had the connotation of a ‘Jewish’ capitalism without calling it ‘Jewish’ explicitly (Meyer zu Uptrup 2003, p. 200-01).
(34) Des Großbankiers Solmssen (Salomonsohn) Liebeserklärung an die Nazis. Der Zentralverband des deutschen Bank- und Bankiergewerbes braucht die Nationalsozialisten als Preisfechter für die Profite der Zinsräuber, Rote Fahne 295, 18 December 1930.
(35) Dem Feigling Goebbels gewidmet, Rote Fahne 66, 19 March 1931.
(36) Hitler proklamiert die Rettung der reichen Juden, Rote Fahne 208, 15 November 1931.
(37) Hitler Agent von Morgan und Rothschild, Rote Fahne 229, 15 December 1931.
(38) Nazis für jüdisches Kapital, Rote Fahne 182, 7 September 1932.
(39) Marx 1843.
(40) Marx 1843.
(41) Karl Marx: Zur Judenfrage. Den Nationalsozialisten ins Stammbuch, Rote Fahne 61, 14 March 1923.
(42) Geld stinkt nicht oder: so sieht ihr Antisemitismus aus! Hakenkreuzparade vor Hakennasen in Wien, eine wahre Begebenheit, Deutschlands Weg, special edition of the Rote Fahne, 29 July 1923.
(43) Zilkenat 1993, p. 34.
(44) Walter 1999, p.152, Large 2003, p. 125.
(45) Zilkenat 1993, p. 33, see also Walter 1999, p.152.
(46) Vorwärts 521, 7 November 1923. With the formulation ‘the black Jew as well as the white’ the socialdemocratic Vorwärts was using antisemitic terms; the term ‘black Jew’ meant ‘the Jewish Capitalist’, while the term ‘white Jew’stood for the ‘Christian Capitalist’ (Bering 1992, p. 140).
(47) Vorwärts 524, 8 November 1923.
(48) Rote Fahne 1, 22 November 1923.
(49) Engels …
(50) Lenin 1919.

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