That’s Funny 3

The Socialism of Fools

To struggle as a Jewish socialist it is a distinct advantage to have been born with three hands—at least three hands. On the one hand it is necessary to struggle against the anti-semitism of daily life both in its casual and its organised forms. On the other hand, it is necessary to struggle against the reactionary Jewish communal leadership which simultaneously advocates zionism in Israel and a form of assimilation in the diaspora as the fulfilment of Jewish identity. On the third hand, it is necessary to resist the anti-semitism that has permeated much of the socialist tradition and which was described by August Bebel, German Social Democrat leader, as the “socialism of fools”.

This book is about Left anti-semitism and is written as a contribution to the anti-racist struggle. Contemporary socialist practice is self-critical enough, albeit to a limited and inadequate extent, to acknowledge that an examination of its own anti-black racism is a legitimate exercise. At the very least, socialists will be prepared to admit that national chauvinism may be present in their own groups. Whatever commitment there is to this, self-criticism has only come about through the existence and pressure of autonomous black organisations and black resistance. However, any attempt to raise even a discussion about the anti-semitic nature of much socialist practice is almost invariably met with apoplexy and vilification. It is virtually a taboo subject.

The reasons why it is essential to study Left anti-semitism are self-evident. Firstly, just as we look to reject the reactionary elements within the Jewish heritage and seek to build only on what is positive, so likewise we have to disregard all reactionary elements that have entered socialism. This is particularly the case with socialism, as it is a movement aimed at changing the entire world and claims to be based on theories of consciousness: hence lack of consciousness of anti-semitism within socialist practice opens up major questions about that practice. Secondly, the Left has often found itself complicit in anti-semitism, and this has had a profound effect on Jewish identity: it has driven many Jews away from socialism, despite the fact that Jewish people played an important role in the development of the socialist movement from its inception. The Jewish masses were active from the Bund (the revolutionary union of Jewish workers) of Russia and Poland to the major movements of Jewish anarchists and communists in this country. These movements were also of significance within the Jewish community itself and were often able to challenge the Jewish establishment. Today this has all but disappeared. Socialists who have an awareness of their Jewishness are isolated inside the Left and have almost no base within the Jewish community.

There are many reasons for this—not least the triumphant anti-communism of the communal leadership. However, one other particular reason is that socialism has appeared to offer no answers to Jewish people and has been seen as tainted with anti-semitism. This is highly significant within the Stalinist tradition because of the generations of Jews who joined or identified with the Communist Parties of the Third International, only to be disillusioned. The socialism of fools, though, also appears both with the reformism of social democracy and with the revolutionary groupings that have dissociated themselves from both reformism and Stalinism. It is not surprising therefore, that so many Jews have turned away from socialism.


It is not difficult to construct a catalogue of grotesque statements and actions by socialists with respect to Jewish people. These are bad enough in themselves and should be opposed from any anti-racist perspective. However, the purpose of this book is to show that Left anti-semitism cannot be understood empirically, merely as a series of unrelated descriptions or examples: rather there is a pattern, a methodology, of Left anti-semitism.

This methodology is by no means confined to the Left. It exists in society at large. It provides anti-semitism with its uniqueness as a form of racism and hence with its definition as a specific category.

Anti-semitism is not simply a type of national chauvinism that happens to be directed against Jews—although this is obviously an important aspect of it. Though Jewish people have suffered and are suffering horrifically from the material consequences of anti-semitism, its uniqueness cannot be located merely in this material suffering. The peculiar and defining feature of anti-semitism is that it exists as an ideology. It provides its adherents with a universal and generalised interpretation of the world. This is the theory of the Jewish conspiracy, which depicts Jews as historically controlling and determining nature and human destiny. Anti-semitism is an ideology which has influenced millions of people precisely because it presents an explanation of the world by attributing such extreme powers to its motive force—the Jews. For instance, Arnold White, a fanatical advocate of Jewish immigration control into the U.K. at the turn of the century, wrote that

“Jewish power … baffled the Pharaohs, foiled Nebuchadnessar, thwarted Rome, defeated feudalism, circumvented the Romanovs, balked the Kaiser and undermined the Third French Republic.” (The Modern Few)

The ancient roots of anti-semitism as ideology can perhaps be found in the pre-Christian world. From the time of the Babylonian exile in the 6th century B.C., most Jews lived outside Palestine and were subjected to accusations of disloyalty because of their allegiance to a god which was not only monotheistic and therefore omnipotent, but which was also supra-national. Jews had a loyalty beyond that to the particular kingdom in which they resided. However, the development of anti-semitism as a theory is a consequence of Christianity.

Christianity transformed notions of Jewish disloyalty into a fundamentally demonic view of the entire world: it equated Jewry with a universal satanic influence. Such an equation is probably inherent within Christianity, as a theology, because of the identification of Jews with the crucifixion. As the Gospel of St. John says of Jews:

“You are of your father the devil and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning.”

The Christian church was promulgating such a theory as early as the 2nd century, whilst engaging in a highly political struggle with the synagogue for converts in the Hellenistic world and when, indeed, each was still struggling to win adherents from the other. As Norman Cohn has written in Warrant For Genocide:

“It was to terrorise the judaising Christians of Antioch into a final breach with the parent religion that St. John Chrysostom called the synagogue ‘the temple of demons … the cavern of devils … a gulf and an abyss of perdition’ and portrayed Jews as habitual murderers and destroyers, people possessed by an evil spirit. And it was to protect his catechumens against Judaism that St. Augustine described those who had been the favourite sons of God as now transformed into sons of Satan. Moreover the Jews were brought into relation with that fearsome figure Antichrist ‘the son of perdition’ whose tyrannical reign, according to St. Paul and the Book of Revelations, is to precede the second coming of Christ. Many of the fathers taught that Antichrist would be a Jew and that the Jews would be his most devoted followers.”

This mythology flowered with a vengeance and gained popular acceptance during the Catholic church’s most militant period—the crusades. Here Jews were presented as the Devil’s offspring—ritually murdering Christian children, poisoning the wells and torturing the consecrated wafer. Apart from anything else, this led to murderous attacks on many Jewish communities in Europe. For instance, the Third Crusade (1189-92) commanded wide support in England where it led to attacks by the assembled crusaders on Jews in various towns, especially York. It would be patently inadequate to regard the crusades simply as a war with Islam. They also represent the final victory and consolidation of Christian hegemony within Europe itself. This was the period when Christianity finally began routing paganism—both physically and by expropriating myths. On one hand, pagan festivals were incorporated into Christian holy days, on the other hand, popular folk perceptions of the evil eye were synthesised into anti-semitism.

It is possible to develop a materialist and class analysis of anti-semitism which relates the ideology of Jewish domination to underlying economic and social changes. The most obvious example of this is the way the conspiracy theory became secularised in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was at the end of the 19th century that the mass circulation of the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion began. This document purported to show that there actually existed a Jewish government which met in secret and which exercised international political power through its control of the media and of the banks. It metamorphosised the devil into a world parliament of Jews. This secularisation was, in reality, nothing more than a reflection of the secularisation of social life as a whole—not least as manifested through the development of the national secular state.

However, a crude deterministic analysis is out of place here. The form of anti-semitism as ideology may change but its essence remains intact, independent of the economic formation under which it is operating. Indeed, the supposed secularisation of the conspiracy theory in the age of rationalism was inevitably flimsy—as the theory itself is profoundly irrational: it grew out of demonology and it always returns to demonology. Ultimately, anti-semitism is about the cosmos and not simply a world parliament. This demonology surfaced in its most powerful way in the middle of the 20th century with the rise of Nazism. Nazism had no pretence that anti-semitism was anything other than devil-power. As Hitler is quoted as saying:

“It is the inexorable Jew who struggles for his domination … Two worlds face one another, the men of God and the men of Satan. The Jew is the anti-man, the creature of another God … I set the Aryan and the Jew ever and against each other” (Davidowicz—The War Against the Jews).

Anti-semitism is a classic example of how not simply pre-capitalist, but also pre-feudal formulations, can flourish in capitalist (and in the case of the U.S.S.R.) post-capitalist societies.

As an ideology anti-semitism is irrationalism par excellence. Moreover, its proponents do not deny this irrationalism—they exalt it. Since anti-semitism takes as given that Jew-power determines history, then the fact that it determines it in seemingly contradictory ways is simply part of the conspiracy. Hence Jews can apparently be dominating the world simultaneously through capitalism and through communism; through sexually corrupting non-Jews and through keeping themselves isolated sexually by not intermarrying; through being cosmopolitans without a nation state and through being zionists. Literally everything can fit into the conspiracy. It is infinite. Even Nazism can, since its defeat, be seen as part of the conspiracy. The Australian fascist Eric Butler in his book The International Jew, The Truth about the Protocols of Zion, claims that Hitler was himself a tool of the conspiracy and was seeking to further the international dispersal of Jews. One of the fearsome features of anti-semitism is that while its essence remains the same its shape is constantly shifting and enlarging as it accumulates more myths. This increase can either be gradual or explosive, depending on the social and political situation. Its nearest equivalent in the realm of natural phenomena, is that of the ever-expanding universe where the constant energy source of the initial big bang is represented in Christian culture by the ceaseless responsibility given to Jews for the crucifixion.

Anti-Semitism without Jews

The ultimate ‘full-circle’ irrationalism of anti-semitism as an ideology is that it does not actually need Jews. There can be anti-semitism without a single Jew. This is precisely because anti-semitism is an ideology which claims to provide cosmic understanding. Central to the ideology are demonic notions which quite clearly transcend the material presence of Jews. Many examples can be given of this. Thus the identification of Jewry with the devil makes Jewry responsible for all satanic influences, including humanity’s original sin—the Fall in Eden—which, even according to Judeo-Christian mythology, took place before the identifiable existence of Jews.

Again, if the almost unimaginable had occurred and the holocaust had been successful in its declared aim, then it would be ludicrous to think this would have been the end to anti-semitism. If anything, it would have been its historical triumph. The ideology would have remained, and if Nazism would ever have felt the need for a material presence of Jews it would simply have designated particular individuals as Jews. Indeed, Nazi law did invent its own definition of Jewry which did not necessarily relate to Jews’ self-definition. Apparently in the Warsaw ghetto there was a Catholic church which opened for practising Catholics, who were designated as Jews by the Nazis, and who were destroyed in the same gas chambers as Jews (see David Ruben, ‘Marxism and the Jewish Question’, Socialist Register 1982). Similarly, in Poland today anti-semitism, under the guise of anti-zionism, exists even though the bulk of the Jewish population has been destroyed. Anti-semitism is apparently unique in that not only does it perceive its victim, the Jew, as having ultimate power, but this perception also remains even when there are no victims left alive.

Perhaps the ideologies of all class societies are based on a completely negative form of irrationalism—because such societies combine both irrationalism and negativity. Maybe if all other assumptions were swept away, then sexism and anti-black racism would also be exposed as resting on the fear by men, or white people, that women or black people had ultimate control. However, sexism and anti-black racism are different phenomena which operate in different ways from each other, and both operate differently from anti-semitism.

The distinguishing feature of anti-semitism is that for its ideologues the conspiracy theory operates on the surface—it is visible. No other assumption has to be pulled away for it to be revealed—it is the assumption. For instance, according to National Front mythology, even the very presence of black people in the U.K. is part of a Jewish conspiracy.

It is of course true that there have been historical periods where sexism has operated as an almost explicit conspiracy theory. For example, in medieval times, witches and homosexuals, men and women, formed, along with Jews, the unholy trinity of the Antichrist. In particular, images of Jews and of witches as sorcerers and defilers, were often interchangeable. Again, beneath the surface of much anti-black racism lurks fear of voodoo and occult rituals.

What gives sexism and racism their own unique irrationalism, however, is precisely the fact that notions of conspiracy are rarely explicit. They are normally quite hidden and therefore in this way harder to combat. It is not coincidental, nor any more reassuring, that there is not a plethora of explicit literature on a supposed world conspiracy of women, gays or black people. Indeed medieval witch massacres had to make a profoundly nonsensical distinction between witches and “good” women. There is no hierarchy of oppression but each operates in its own frightening way.

There is no reason to assume that individual anti-semites have an explicit world conspiracy theory—just as there is no reason to assume, for example, that capitalist traders have a fully worked-out theoretical appreciation of bourgeois economics. Many Jew-haters just seize on particular anti-semitic images of Jews—as bloodsuckers, usurers or whatever. These images have been within Christendom and accumulating, one on another, for nearly two millennia. In terms of individual psychology, false consciousness of the conspiracy theory is usually quite fragmented—individuals will carry around some anti-Jewish images in an ad hoc manner.

The distinguishing feature of anti-semitism is the success and persistence of the attempts which its most powerful ideologues, from the early Christian fathers, to the crusaders, to the Protocols, to the Nazi philosophers, have made to theorise it in terms of the conspiracy of Jews. The anti-semitism of daily life, whether or not it is understood by its adherents, all takes place within this theoretical framework. Moreover, popular consciousness about Jews, however individually fragmented, is sufficiently potent to be regularly stimulated by demagogues into a mass psychology—by demagogues who have genuine awareness of conspiracy theory. Fascist politicians in this century have well understood this.

Left Anti-Semitism

Anti-semitism on the Left is essentially identical to, and has the same methodology as, that of society at large. It is the expression of the conspiracy theory—but under the false guise of socialism. Usurping the language of class struggle it negates the very idea of class struggle and replaces it with anti-Jewish struggle.

Of course, socialist practice is not a monolith. Some of it has accorded with socialist theory and has not been anti-semitic. Inasmuch as that has any relevance to the present debate, however, it is relevant only to the weight of the anti-semitic tradition within socialist practice. It neither explains nor denies that tradition. Moreover, there is no balance sheet with any form of racism. It is hardly worthwhile to subtract the number of racist statements made from the number of non-racist statements to calculate how racist a movement is. Why bother? It is intolerable that socialist practice should contain any anti-semitism and it is equally intolerable that a wall of silence, often to the point of censorship, should have been thrown around its existence. Indeed, there is some hypocrisy present here. Many socialists, and many socialist organisations, will wish to distance themselves from any insinuations about their own anti-semitic practice, precisely by claiming that the Left tradition has not been monolithic. However, if it has not been so monolithic in their eyes, then it is perfectly legitimate to ask why they have consistently remained silent and complicit in the face of Left anti-semitism.

This book is primarily about socialist practice in the U.K. in general, and England in particular. However, this practice also comes out of a European tradition of socialism, so inevitably, references are made to other movements outside the U.K.—including those in the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. The book says nothing about socialist or liberation movements in the third world, deliberately so, because countries in the third world have not historically been within the grip of Christianity, and thus have no tradition of conspiracy theories. For instance, within Islam both Jew and Christian were seen as infidels—and certainly there was no constant mythology of universal Jewish domination. If notions about Jewish power have entered the third world, then that is a product of imperialistic and Christian penetration.

Left anti-semitism has gone through two distinct, if related and overlapping, stages. The first coincided with the establishment of the modern socialist movement itself, at the end of the 19th century. Here, the particular mythology of Jew as finance capitalist took root within important sectors of the emergent socialist and industrial labour movement. This was crucial, as it meant that socialist practice had a tradition of anti-semitism almost from its birth. The second stage developed around the question of zionism—particularly after the war which created Israel in 1948. A significant feature of contemporary socialist practice is, on the one hand, the expansion of zionism to equate it with world imperialist domination and, on the other hand, the reduction of the entire Jewish experience to equate that with zionism. It is a combination of the conspiracy theory with that of collective guilt.

Quite clearly, anti-zionism is not in itself anti-semitic. However, much of what the Left poses as anti-zionism is transcendental: it relates neither to the struggle of the Palestinians nor to what the Israeli state is actually doing. Rather it is concerned with ascribing world power to zionism and holding all Jews in the world responsible for this. Left practice presents as anti-zionism something which is neither about zionism nor about Palestinian liberation, but is about some alleged responsibility of Jews on a global scale. This is anti-semitism. The fact that this book is written in full support of the Palestinian struggle is absolutely irrelevant. Left anti-semitism has to be condemned irrespective of one’s position on zionism. However, socialist Jews who are committed equally to solidarity with the Palestinian liberation struggle and to the fight against anti-semitism, are put in an impossible “catch 22” situation by the Left. Any mention of anti-semitism is seen as a diversion from the struggle against zionism. Moreover, the merest suggestion that the Left can itself be anti-semitic is equated with an attack, both on communism, and on the Palestinian cause. An example, which is almost a caricature, occurred in an editorial in the journal Big Flame which stated that an “obsession” with anti-semitism detracted from the need to “focus” on zionism (October, 1982).

There is, manifestly, an ideological link between the anti-semitism present at the birth of a definitive socialist practice in the last century, and Left anti-semitism in relation to zionism in this century. It would be anti-dialectical to expect the disappearance of ideological deformations without their being consciously challenged. There is also a specific ideological linkage uniting the two historical periods and running like a chain between them. This is assimilationism. The general chauvinism which permeates the Left on matters of cultural and national identity has assumed such a form that an independent Jewish identity is seen as either conceptually impossible or hopelessly reactionary. The relationship between assimilationism and anti-semitism as ideology is a problematic one, and is looked at later. What is being emphasised here is the strength of assimilationism within socialist thought.

Socialism, Anti-Semitism, Thatcherism and Fascism

Anti-semitism on the Left is harmful to Jews and degrading to socialists, irrespective of the precise historical period in which it manifests itself. However, there is a particular urgency in facing up to it today. We are now witnessing a popular resurgence of the New Right, best exemplified by Thatcherism in the U.K. As well as being a direct attack on the working class this represents chauvinism in all aspects-racial, national and sexual. It is arguable whether anti-semitism could become an explicit part of Tory philosophy. It certainly has popular appeal and is an important component of the “Victorian Values” that this government is so fond of espousing. However, it may well be that even the Tory Party could not incorporate anti-semitism institutionally in the direct way that all parliamentary parties now incorporate anti-black racism. Arguably, this requires a party of open fascism.

In any event, it is inconceivable that a socialist movement which is shot through with its own anti-semitism could face up to any of the aspects of Tory, let alone fascist, chauvinism. Over the last few years, sections of the socialist movement, mainly stimulated by the ideas and attitudes of feminism, have been re-evaluating their practice in order to develop a socialist practice which is both aware of the aspirations of the oppressed and is unoppressive in itself. This book about Left anti-semitism is written in that spirit.

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