The Non-Jewish Question
The few serious contributions by socialist writers towards understanding Jews and Jewish history are normally entitled The Jewish Question (Abram Leon’s book) or The Jewish Problem (Isaac Deutcher’s essay on ‘The Russian Revolution and the Jewish Problem’). Also, reactionary writings on this subject have similar titles—for instance Marx’s article and Sack’s book on The Jewish Question. What is really at issue here is a non-Jewish problem. It is a non-Jewish problem every time a Jew on the Left comes out as Jewish and is immediately requested—with grave suspicion by the person making the request—to give their position on … zionism. No questions are ever asked, either on a personal or a political level, about other aspects of Jewish identity or Jewish culture, or anything that might conceivably be positive about being Jewish. Every single contemporary quotation referred to in this book originates either in articles by the Left on zionism, or alternatively in articles by the Left responding to criticism of anti-semitism by Jewish socialists.
Non-Jews have an independent responsibility to face up to the power of anti-semitism in all its aspects—including anti-semitism within the Left. It should not always be up to Jews to take the initiative. The tragedy is that much of the socialist tradition, far from being a liberating force, is actually part of the problem.
It is unfortunately true that many of the criticisms made in this pamphlet can be made of the Left in all its activities—and not just in relation to Jews.
Generally speaking, the Left has a hierarchical view of oppression: it ignores questions of culture; it is threatened by separatist organisations; it has an ignorance of history in general and of its own history in particular. In a sense this book is merely a detailed examination of these matters through the specific illustration of how Jews are perceived. There are Jewish socialist organisations which are trying to (re)create an unoppressive socialist tradition in this country. As Jews we hope we have particular experiences that can enrich this. However, this book also has a very particular purpose. This is to try and make sense of the recurring examples of anti-semitism on the Left, and to show that they form a coherent pattern, based on the notion of the Jewish conspiracy. It is intolerable that the socialist movement has never been prepared to look at its anti-semitism in a self-critical way.
Moreover, there are four specific factors which stand out in this pattern and which illuminate it:
The first is the extraordinary popularism within the Left—in which it appeals to ‘common sense’ views that often make it genuinely indistinguishable from fascism. A lot of the writings quoted in this pamphlet, about Jews at the turn of the century, and about zionism, could have come directly from anti-semitic journals. The result is that papers like Socialist Worker actually print anti-Jewish letters by known fascists.
This book is primarily about Left anti-semitism in Britain. Nonetheless the examples drawn from this country are by no means unique. The tendency to rely upon popular anti-semitism can be seen as intruding into the whole tradition of European socialism. Robert Wistrich in his book Socialism and the Jews has recently shown its prevalence in the early social democratic parties in Austria and Germany at the turn of this century. These parties were mass organisations. Their extreme popularism can be seen most clearly by the fact that many of their leaders welcomed the victory of Karl Lueger’s notoriously anti-semitic Christian Social party, in the 1895 Vienna municipal elections, as a prelude to the anti-capitalist revolution. Incidentally, an article by Derek Mahon in the New Statesman (which supports the Labour Party) has recently described Lueger as a “socialist” (9.9.83). At the same time, Jews who raised the question of anti-semitism were accused of pleading a ‘special case’. For instance, in 1911 the myth of the blood libel reappeared in Russia when Menahem Beilis was accused of the ritual murder of a Christian boy. This led to violent anti-Jewish propaganda. Victor Adler, the leader of the Austrian socialists, rejected requests to hold protest meetings in favour of Beilis and was reported as saying “Jews and more Jews—as if the whole world revolved around the Jewish question”.
The ‘Left’ is obviously not a monolithic block. It has distinct strands and differing traditions. Left anti-semitism, though, has never been confined to anyone particular socialist tradition—as well as being found within Marxism and the reformism of social democracy, it also appears within the anarchist movements. The following information is taken from E. Silberner’s article on Bakunin in Historia Judaica 1952. Bakunin is regarded as a hero by most anarchists because of his theoretical writings and practical activities. In fact he was a complete anti-semite. He wrote that:
“The whole Jewish world constitutes one exploiting sect, one people of leeches, one single devouring parasite closely and intimately bound together not only across national boundaries but also across all divergencies of political opinion”.
Bakunin also attacked Marx for being Jewish—just as Marx attacked Lassalle and Lassalle attacked himself!
Indeed, Bakunin’s own justification of anarchy was remarkable in that it was founded explicitly on his own belief in the world Jewish conspiracy. He saw both capitalism and communism as being based on centralised state structures at all times controlled by Jews. He wrote
“This Jewish world today stands in large part at the disposal of Marx on the one hand and of Rothschild on the other. This may seem strange. What common ground can there be between communism and the big bank? Oh! but the communism of Marx wants a powerful governmental centralisation and where this exists there must inevitably be a central State Bank and where such a bank exists the parasitic Jewish nation, which speculates in the labor of the people will always find means to exist”.
In addition to this the Narodnaia Volia (the People’s Will Party) of Russia—a pre-Bolshevik organisation with strong Bakuninist and popularist tendencies—completely adapted to anti-semitism to the point of fermenting pogroms. Its executive committee issued on September 1st 1881 a proclamation urging the masses to revolt against the ‘Jewish Tsar’.
“Only blood”, declared the proclamation, “will wash away the people’s affliction. You (Russian peasants) have already begun to rebel against the Jews. You are doing well. For soon over the whole Russian land there will arise a revolt against the Tsar, the lords and the Jews. It is good that you, too, will be with us”.
In conclusion, Jewish socialists who are today trapped within the innumerable double-binds of Left anti-semitism and who often doubt their own stability as voices crying in the dark should take heart. Left anti-semitism is not a figment of anyone’s imagination and it is not an ‘obsession’ to protest against it. There have always been Jews within the socialist movement who have protested and not let their pain remain secret or their anger unheard. Theodore Rothstein, then a member of the Social Democratic Federation, condemned that organisation’s anti-semitism as an “indelible burning stain” on socialism (quoted by Emest Bax in Justice 28.10.1899). Likewise, another member of the S.D.F., M. Shayer, wrote to Justice saying that the politics of that paper would ensure that “Jews have no guarantee that they will enjoy peace and equality even in a socialist regime” (7.10.1899). Though these protests have been long buried … we should revive them and swim against the tide in order to create a genuine socialism.