Hal Draper


Marx and the Economic-Jew Stereotype


From Hal Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, Vol.1: State and Bureaucracy, Monthly Review, New York 1977, pp.591-608.
© Hal Draper 1977
© Center for Socialist History (Berkeley). Reproduced here with permission.
Downloaded with thanks from the REDS – Die Roten Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

There is a bulky output of literature alleging that Marx’s essay On the Jewish Question is anti-Semitic because it equates Jewry with the spirit of money-making, the merchant-huckster, preoccupation with self-interest and egoism-that is, with the commercialism of the new bourgeois order. The charge has been furthered in various ways, including forgery: one honest critic renamed the essay A World Without Jews as if this were Marx’s title. [1] Few discussions of the essay explain clearly its political purpose and content in connection with the Jewish emancipation question, or even accurately present the views of its target, Bauer. Mainly, the allegation is supported by reading the attitudes of the second half of the twentieth century back into the language of the 1840s. More than that, it is supported only if the whole course of German and European anti-Jewish sentiment is whitewashed, so as to make Marx’s essay stand out as a black spot. This note will take up only the 1843 essay and its background.

The general method was memorably illustrated in C.B. Kelland’s 1936 novel Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, which some may know as a Gary Cooper film. In an attempt to have a hearing declare Mr. Deeds of unsound mind, two little old ladies are brought in from his home town to testify. It’s well known, one explains, that he is pixillated – balmy in the head. The honest woman’s evidence seems damning. But the case blows up later when she is asked one more question: “Who else in your town is pixillated?” She answers: “Why, everybody!

As soon as the question is raised, it is not difficult or even controversial to show that virtually the entire population of Germany (and the rest of Europe, too) was pixillated-that is, habitually used and accepted the words Jew and Jewry in the manner of Marx’s essay whether they were favorable to the Jews’ cause or not, whether they were anti-Semitic or not, whether they were Jews or not. In this they were only following the very old, if now discredited, practice of using national and ethnic names as epithets, usually derogatory, for people showing a trait supposedly characteristic of the nation or ethnic group. This practice, which began to be suppressed in self-consciously polite society only a few decades ago, was as common in English as in any other language, and some of it still hangs on. Consider a few: wild Indian (active child), apache (Paris criminal), Hottentot (as in Hottentot morality), street arab, gypsy, bohemian, Cossack, blackamoor, Turk; or, as an adjective: Dutch courage, Mexican general, French leave. Another of this group, for centuries, has been Jew.

1. The Pattern in Germany

Marx’s essay represents a very attenuated form of the general pattern, for most commonly Jew was a synonym for usurer, whereas by this time mere money-making was eminently respectable. [2] Bauer’s writing assumed that Jew meant usurer – quite in passing, for he was not interested in the economic Jew but in the “Sabbath Jew”. [3] The same economic stereotype of the Jew can be found in Arnold Ruge [4], who remained a liberal and never became a communist, as well as in Max Stirner [5], whose book The Ego and Its Own heralded anarchism. These names already cover the spectrum of the Young Hegelian milieu, whose philosophic mentor Feuerbach provided the immediate example for this language about the role of Jewry. [6]

A special case, near if not in the Young Hegelian tendency, was Moses Hess: conscientiously Jewish himself, Hess had been brought up in an orthodox household and later became the progenitor of Zionism. It is well known that the language of Marx’s Part II of On the Jewish Question followed the view of the Jews’ role given in an essay On the Money System just written by none other than Hess, and just read by Marx. [7]

Hess’s thesis was that present-day society was a “huckster world”, a “social animal-world”, in which people become fully developed “egoists”, beasts of prey and bloodsuckers. “The Jews”, wrote the father of Zionism, “who in the natural history of the social animal-world had the world-historic mission of developing the beast of prey out of humanity have now finally completed their mission’s work.” It was in the “Judeo-Christian huckster world” that “the mystery of the blood of Christ, like the mystery of the ancient Jewish blood-worship, finally appears quite unmasked as the mystery of the beast of prey.” There is more verbiage, going back to the “blood-cult” of ancient Judaism as the prototype of modern society, and on to a condemnation of priests as the “hyenas of the social animal-world” who are as bad as the other animal-people by virtue of their “common quality as beasts of prey, as bloodsuckers, as Jews, as financial wolves”. [8] Earlier in 1843 Hess had published an important article on The Philosophy of Action, which only incidentally remarked that “The Christian God is an imitation of the Jewish Moloch-Jehovah, to whom the first-born were sacrificed to ‘propitiate’ him, and whom the juste-milieu age of Jewry bought off with money ...” [9] Hess intended no special anti-Jewish animus in any of this stuff, compared to which Marx’s approach is complimentary and drily economic. Note that Judaism is criticized as part of the Judeo-Christian complex, and not in order to praise Christianity – this being the same pattern as Voltaire’s; although Hess saw no contradiction between his own continued Jewish faith and loyalties and his opinion, expounded in his writings, that Christianity was the more advanced, modern and “pure” religion – all in the Feuerbachian groove. [10]

It is relevant to add that much of the economic-Jew stereotype had at this time gained general Jewish acceptance, at least as applied to rich Jews: so one can learn from the best German historian of anti-Semitism, Eleonore Sterling. [11]

If we move outside Young Hegelian circles, we may note that two other famous Jews of the period are no exception to the rule: Lassalle [12] and Heine. Heine is especially interesting, as always. His article on the Damascus affair of 1840 – one of the famous frameups of Jews on the “blood” accusation – is full of bitter indignation against the French Jews for lack of concern over their victimized brethren abroad. “Among the French Jews, as with other Frenchmen,” wrote Heine (in France), “gold is the god of the time, and industry is the prevailing religion.” Baron Rothschild and the noted Jewish plutocrat Fould are called “two distinguished rabbis of finance”. Heine says caustically, “I do not believe that Israel ever gave money, save when its teeth were drawn by force. . . . There are, of course, now and then examples that vanity can open the obdurate pockets of Jews, but then their liberality is more repulsive than their meanness.” [13] (At this point the American translator was moved to apologize for Heine’s language, for by this time, 1891, the modern racist type of anti-Semitism was over a decade old; in 1840 it had no such significance or motivation.) An excellent study by William Rose gives the context of Heine’s aphorism that “The Jews were the Germans of the Orient, and now the Protestants in the Germanic countries ... are nothing else than old-oriental Jews.” [14] Rose naturally makes clear Heine’s polyvalence about Jewry (ambivalence would be too weak).

As for other products of the Hegelian school, farther right, D.F. Strauss [15] was more virulently anti-Jewish than those mentioned; and the famous Hegelian scholar Eduard Gans, whose lectures Marx attended at the university, was another Jewish case in point. Indeed, Gans’s case can be considered a symbol. When Marx came to the University of Berlin in 1836, Gans (in jurisprudence) was the big Hegelian influence on the faculty. Seventeen years before, Gans had helped Leopold Zunz found the first society for Jewish studies in the world, of which he became president. The project bogged down because the rich Jews whom they had counted on refused to dip into their pockets. Zunz cried that Jewry was beyond reform, “the prey of barbarians, fools, moneylenders, and parnasim” (synogogue money-men), “slaves of mere self-interest ... a pap of praying, bank notes, and charity.” But he plugged on. President Gans reported: “The only link which unites the Jews is fear; the only interest for which they are willing to part with some of their worldly goods is charity” – whereupon he went through the baptism route from the cheder to the Katheder. But even earlier, in the society’s journal, Gans had had no inhibition against remarking that “Jewish life” reflected a “double aristocracy whose component parts ... are ... money and rabbis.” [16]

Hegel himself had written along the same lines mainly in early works, that is, before his Prussian conservatization. [17] This was no paradox. It was the conservative right that usually expressed antipathy to Jewry in religious and racialist terms; it was the left-of-center that put the spotlight on the economic role of Jewry, the economic Jews; and both stereotypes flourished among peasants and other poor victims of the system. Fichte, another source of philosophic radicalism, deserved the name of systematic anti-Semite more than any so far mentioned. [18]

If we move to anti-Establishment dissent to the right of the Young Hegelians and their circle, we find that the Young Germany movement, through the pens of its leader Karl Gutzkow and prominent literary light Heinrich Laube, wrote no differently about the Jews, and at some length. [19]

2. The Universality of Pixillation

In the 1840s both sides, for and against political emancipation, held the economic image of the Jew as common ground. The strong bourgeois-liberal movement pressing for Jewish rights was quite vocal in arguing that civil emancipation was necessary in order to solve the Jewish question by dissolving Jewry as a recognizable entity into the general pool of Germanness and thus eventually eliminating it. Hess himself had presented this viewpoint in his most successful book, in 1841. [20] Says Gustav Mayer of the pro-Jewish liberals: “Only through full and equal rights, they believed, would it be possible to wean away the Prussian Jews from their un-German customs and from their one-sided preference for petty trade.” [21]

Glickson, in the course of an indignant harangue against Marx, lets slip the following statement: “It is a well-known fact that the contemporary masters of philosophy and literature, with the single exception of Lessing, had no sympathy for Jews or Judaism. The greatest of them taught that the Jews were foreign and different, and drew definite political conclusions from these teachings. Goethe, the great world-citizen, strongly opposed the liberation of the Jews; he saw in them heretics who deny ‘the source of our high culture’.” [22] Goethe had worse and stupider things to say about the Jews than this, including of course the commercial stereotype. [23] Lessing, the alleged “single exception”, had been dead for sixty-two years and was hardly a contemporary; we will come back to this mythical exception. (Why, everybody’s pixillated!)

Silberner, who writes as a prosecuting attorney, eventually makes the following remark: “The most various writers could indeed have reinforced Marx’s prejudice against the Jews. Many representatives of German classical literature and philosophy were not precisely fond of the Jews, and since he read much of them, they could have contributed to his Judeophobia.” [24] Silberner does not mention any who were “fond of the Jews”, including Jews. All of German history exists, for him, only as an influence on Marx. This bizarre approach is due to the understandable reluctance, shown by him and similar writers, to inform the modern reader that so many great men either disliked the Jews or thought of them in terms of the economic stereotype, for fear of reinforcing contemporary anti-Semitic currents by giving them respectable sanction. It is only Marx who is to be accused of being pixillated.

As Roman Rosdolsky said of this modus operandi, “In this manner one could very easily assign to the camp of anti-Semitism three-quarters of the thinkers, writers, and politicians of the past.” [25] If we consider only left-of-center circles, the proportion would be closer to 100 percent, since it is on the left, rather than on the right, that the economic structure and role of Jewry was the main operative factor.

All this was not only true of Germany. In France and England the economic stereotype of the Jew and its expression in leftish circles was similar; we are not dealing with a phenomenon of the German soul. France was worse.

An essay by Z. Szajkowski is illuminating on the subject of France. It reports at the end that it is impossible to find any “sympathetic reference to the Jews in the French socialist literature, from Saint-Simon to the date of Drumont’s first appearance [1886]”. For the most part, what this involved was the stereotyped identification of Jews with money values and economic exploitation. More virulent attitudes existed among the Fourierists especially. The tradition of dislike for Jewish economic activities goes back in France not simply to Voltaire but to the history of Jewry in the later Middle Ages and the Enlightenment. [26]

In France, indeed, one first finds a new note: here Jew-hatred took a proto-Nazi form in the express desire of Proudhon (father of anarchist “libertarianism”) for the physical extermination of all Jews. Bakunin, the other father of anarchism, was almost as virulently anti-Semitic in the modern sense as Proudhon. [27] But in this period, this proto-Nazi anti-Semitism is found only among these anarchist liberty-shouters, as far as I know.

England was by no means as bad as France. But routine equation of the economic Jew with money-bags, financial overlords, commercial exploitation, and the rest, cropped up in the Chartist press, including the best of the left Chartists [28], in the manner of Marx’s essay. To take another part of the political spectrum: Macaulay can be viewed as an English example of the liberal supporter of Jewish civil emancipation who expressed as much aversion to Jewish economic activities as many an opponent. [29] The jibes at the economic Jew stereotype are not at all peculiar to socialist writings: they are found wherever there is expression of antagonism to the bourgeois or financial world. The reactionary antibourgeois critic Thomas Carlyle was not only virulently anti-Jewish but also opposed the granting of greater legal rights to the Jews. [30]

But it would be a complete misunderstanding of the economic-Jew stereotype if it is identified with an anti-Jewish context only. Leaving aside the advocates of Jewish emancipation who used language similar to Marx’s essay just as automatically as its opponents, it is instructive to look at the first Jewish socialist movement which began stirring in the latter 1870s.

This is three decades later than the period of Marx’s essay; the whole basis of awareness of the Jewish question has been transformed by the rise of a systematically racist anti-Semitic movement for the first time; we are dealing with Jewish-conscious socialists reacting to a real anti-Semitic threat; and by this time there is something of a Jewish proletariat in existence. Everything is different; but still, consider the terms of the first socialist manifesto issued to Jewry, by Aaron Lieberman, the historic pioneer of this movement. His Call to the Jewish Youth reverberated with the tones of Isaiah (as in Isaiah 2: 7-9, for example). It said: “Emancipate yourselves from the power-lust that lies at the bottom of your privileges. Stop praying to gold and might.” Lieberman blames the Jewish bankers and merchants for the plight of his people:

We have had to pay for your sins! The race hatred, the religious hatred, with all their terrors have fallen mostly upon us [the poor Jews]. You kindled the fire that devours us. We have you to thank for it that the name Israel has become a curse. The entire Jewish people, suffering and astray, must suffer more than all other peoples because of your greed. It is your fault that we have been exposed to calumny. International speculators, who have dragged our name through the mud, you do not belong to us! [31]

The power of the traditional stereotype is recognized here precisely by the justified fervor of the plea to repudiate it, to emphasize the class struggle within Jewry in order to exorcize it. There is a historical background to this.

3. Roots of the Economic Jew

We have assumed up to now that the reader has a general conception of the economic history behind the stereotype – at any rate, how Jews were forced into a lopsided economic structure by Christendom’s prohibition on their entrance into agriculture, guild occupations, and professions. Three myths about the economic Jew are easy to refute but not germane here; they are: (1) that Jews controlled finance or any part of economic life; (2) that all Jews were rich; and (3) that it was the Jews that created, or invented, capitalism. After these myths are disposed of, however, the real historical basis of the economic Jew can be broached. Something else was involved beyond these exaggerations, and may be summarized as follows:

  1. The important role that the (upper stratum of) Jews did play in the development of postfeudal society, especially considering the tiny proportion of the population they constituted.
  2. The great tilt in the economic structure of Jewry toward middleman and financial occupations, including the bulk of poor Jews in huckstering occupations, for example, peddlers, petty merchants.
  3. The relatively high visibility of the Jews’ economic role – as, for example, when Junkers employed Jews as loan collectors and mortgage foreclosers, thus gaining the profits while the Jews gained the onus as “bloodsuckers”.

In 1843 little was known, even to those aware of the question, about the economic or sociohistorical development of the Jewish people. The very concept of a Wissenschaft des Judentums (Jewish studies) had arisen only in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Today there is a considerable literature on the question [32], but it is ahistorical to predate its acquisition. A portion of that history which is important background for our present subject is well summarized in Sterling’s Judenhass, which deals precisely with Germany in the years 1815-1850:

The enlightened officials recognized, already in the middle of the eighteenth century, the useful and progressive function of the Jews in the development of commerce and industry, which tended to transform the still seminatural-economy state into a modern money- and credit-economy state. The princes summoned Jews to their courts in order to carry out the financing of their provinces independently of the Estates, in order to obtain moneys for raising and maintaining their armies, and to make possible the operation of new businesses. In this way was formed a small rich and politically privileged upper stratum within the Jewish population. Jewish court agents, bankers, and army contractors assumed an important position in finance, in commerce and in the industry of the mercantilist-oriented states. When the economic upswing set in after the Napoleonic war, many Christians as well as Jews found themselves in an advantageous position because they had large amounts of liquid capital at their disposal. Still their number must have been slight ...

In the course of time arose a new but also not numerous group of Jews who became well-to-do through the new economic development. Unhindered by old traditions and guild regulations, they quickly adopted the methods of the modern English credit system and stock speculation. They understood how to turn out large quantities of goods produced in the new factories for the market, got in position to give state loans, and participated in railroad construction and built factories.

In that way the real security of the Jews essentially depended on their usefulness to others and on the good will of the governments; all their enterprises, indeed their very existence, remained always in jeopardy. They therefore attempted with great energy to compensate with economic power for the legal and social security they lacked. In this way the Jewish financiers who had grown rich in the new capitalist order, in which money was all-powerful, achieved a “privileged” position ...

In the sections where capitalist commerce and industry had already made important progress even without Jews, the Christian population by no means felt that the success of the Jewish upper stratum was a handicap for themselves. Thus, already in 1817 the Gewerbepolizei in Aachen said that Jewish business in the Prussian Rhineland could no longer be considered “usury” but a synonym for free trade and the profit system. [33]

Such favorable attitudes were not taken, however, by merchants’ corporative guilds and the patrician order in the smaller German states and backward areas, not to speak of the peasantry and artisanry.

It is clear why the spearhead of the Jewish emancipation drive, the petition campaign,

came mostly from the big-bourgeois circles of the cities in which industrial development was already far advanced and in which the Jews of the bourgeois upper stratum already played an integrating function in the economy. It was Christian and Jewish great merchants, factory owners, bankers, and insurance directors who drafted the petitions and submitted them with numerous signatures. [34]

This was the nature of the emancipation campaign which Marx supported and Bauer attacked.

But it would be a mistake to believe that the economic-Jew stereotype among the population was merely a reflection of this upper stratum, of the Rothschilds and Foulds. Many or most of the poor Jews also functioned as middlemen – peddlers, hawkers, hand-to-mouth traders and merchants, petty money-lenders – in very direct contact with the poor Christian population, caught in the classic pattern of having to squeeze those below as they were squeezed from above. Jews were associated with “financial exploitation” on levels far below Rothschild: “Recent happenings in the Rhineland and Alsace,” relates Solomon Bloom, “strengthened this popular suspicion; Jewish moneylenders broke up properties of landlords and farmers at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century. The Western radical community was not unaffected by the resulting animosities.” Gustav Mayer says, of anyone brought up in the young Marx’s place and time: “’The Jews’ to him meant mainly the Jewish cattle dealers in the Rhineland, those who bought from, and sold to the small peasants, taking advantage of their own superior business abilities.” [35]

For our present purposes it is not necessary to settle the controversy over just how important the Jews were in the rise of capitalism. The identification of Jewry with commercialism, which was everybody’s pixillation in the 1840s, was elaborated in great detail as late as 1911 by Werner Sombart’s The Jews and Modern Capitalism; and after all the nonsense in that erudite opus is discounted, there is more than enough left to explain the mind of a generation that existed before economic history had even been invented.

4. Ex Post Facto Anti-Semitism

After the rise of Hitlerism, it became de rigueur to play down the Jews’ significance for capitalism, since the Nazis used it for their own purposes. [36] But eminent Jewish historians have proudly lauded their role. In his introduction to Ruppin’s The Jews in the Modern World, for example, Professor L.B. Namier, writing militantly as a Zionist Jew and a true-blue Englishman, boasted: “Two races [sic] headed the movement [of progress in the capitalist system] though under vastly different conditions – the British and the Jews; they were the pioneers of capitalism, and its first, and perhaps chief, beneficiaries.” For others, that picture was considered to hold only until about the middle of the nineteenth century, which thoroughly covers Marx’s essay. [37]

A. Leon has argued, against Sombart and others, that Jewry played such a role in pre-capitalist society:

Judaism was an indispensable factor in precapitalist society. It was a fundamental organism within it. That is what explains the two-thousand year existence of Judaism in the Diaspora. The Jew was as characteristic a personage in feudal society as the lord and the serf. It was no accident that a foreign element played the role of “capital” in feudal society ... The “capital” of precapitalist society existed outside of its economic system. [38]

But, continues Leon’s thesis, the rise of capitalism to dominance in the social system went hand in hand with the decline of Jewry in this function. Thereupon the Jews were pushed more and more into the interstices of the system, especially in a capacity as distribution middlemen and as usurers dealing more with the poor than with kings, as formerly. “In the measure that usury became the principal occupation of Jews, they entered increasingly into relations with the popular masses, and these relations worsened all the time.” The peasant who lost his land or stock, or the artisan who lost his tools, to the Jewish money-lender, was incapable of seeing the upper-bourgeois Christians behind the usurer; hatreds were let loose on the highly visible intermediaries. [39] Leon’s term for Jewry, the people-class, is an attempt to give scientific form to the social basis of what we have been calling the economic-Jew stereotype. [1*]

Leon aimed at a Marxist analysis; but we can turn to a leading theoretician of Socialist Zionism for confirmation, from an entirely different angle, of the effective universality of the old equation for which Marx’s essay gets denounced. Hayim Greenberg, writing in 1942, was disturbed about the use made by Nazi anti-Semitism of the facts of the Jews’ economic role. He denies “the old charge that Jews are parasites in the world’s economic order” by arguing that the economic role which Jewry was forced into was in fact useful, honorable, and nothing to apologize for. He concludes that “There is nothing wicked in being a middleman, but it is not sound for a whole people to consist of middlemen.” What Greenberg is trying to say is that it is no more wicked to be a Jewish middleman than a Christian one. All of which was true, of course, as Marx had demonstrated in his own way by transforming the issue from the contrast of Jews to Christians into the economic equivalence of Jews and Christians. In the course of this defense, however, Greenberg testifies to the universality of pixillation – in queasy terms which, it must be remembered, are being written by a Zionist champion a hundred years after Marx’s essay and over a decade after the rise of Nazism:

Jews also have been considerably influenced by the notion that they constitute an unproductive, or even a destructive force, in the world’s economy. We speak of Jews as essentially a people of ... individuals whose occupations are unsubstantial, who are exploiters, speculators and traffickers in the labor of others.

Signs of this self-condemnation first appear in the literature of our “enlightenment”. Jews who felt spiritually emancipated from the civilization of the ghetto even before they were emancipated from its legal disabilities, developed a great admiration for European culture and were in no small degree affected by its anti-Jewish prejudices. Certainly they shared the European’s disdain for the Jew as a trader.

By 1942 all this had become anti-Semitic by ex post facto determination; but note that Greenberg was not so ignorant or hypocritical as to pretend that he had Marx in mind:

The views of many Jewish socialists in regard to the economic role of the Jews have also been tinged by a certain anti-Semitic bias ...

Non-Jewish socialists, and not necessarily Marxian socialists, have tended to look down on the Jew in the world’s economy.

He cites the Russian Narodnaya Volya, the peasant-oriented populist-terrorist movement of the late nineteenth century, which was even known to encourage peasant pogroms as one activity in their struggle. The Populists, he explains, held “the idea that the Jew was essentially a ‘bloodsucker’,” and adds: “This also explains Tolstoy’s rather unfriendly attitude towards the Jews, an attitude most eloquently expressed by his repeated failure to speak up on behalf of the persecuted Jews.” There goes another pixillated “libertarian”. But Greenberg goes further: to the Zionist socialists themselves and their left wing:

Nor is Zionism free from its share of responsibility. There was a time when it used to be the fashion for Zionist speakers (including the writer) to declare from the platform that “to be a good Zionist one must first be somewhat of an anti-Semite”. [41]

Greenberg states that this attitude can be found in Pinsker, Syrkin, Borochov, A.D. Gordon, and others – all of them the leaders and founders of the Labor Zionist movement. “To this day,” he adds, “Labor Zionist circles are under the influence of the idea that the Return to Zion involves a process of purification from our economic uncleanness.” [42] It should be added that the movement’s social-democratic theoretician, Ber Borochov, based his whole theory of Socialist Zionism on a class analysis of the Jewish people along the now-interdicted (”anti-Semitic”) lines, and that his fundamental “Marxist” argument for Zionism was that it was the only road to changing the class composition of the Jews. The same goes for his successor as the theoretician of Socialist Zionism, Nachman Syrkin. [43]

It cannot be overemphasized that all of this, for which Greenberg beats his breast, was a matter of contrasting the economic Jew with the Christian world to the Jews’ discredit; for this bolstered the Zionist aim of making the Jews “a people like other people”. None of this sort of thing was in Marx’s 1843 essay, which repudiated such a derogatory contrast by already identifying modern (bourgeois) Christendom with the commercial role of what Leon called the people-class.

While we have shown that this identification was in no way peculiar to Marx but was the common coin of the time – and it was precisely for this reason that Marx could turn it to account in order to make his political point – we must now go a little further along these lines. This identification was not merely generally accepted, but had been built into the language. McLellan goes so far as to put it this way:

Judentum, the German word for Judaism, had the derivative meaning of “commerce”, and it is this meaning which is uppermost in Marx’s mind throughout the article. “Judaism” has very little religious, and still less racial, content for Marx and it would be little exaggeration to say that this latter part of Marx’s review [Part II of On the Jewish Question] is an extended pun at Bauer’s expense. [44]

This pun was not a jest but a play on words. Such word-play was indeed a favorite literary pattern of the young Marx, as it was of Hegel. In both it was not a humorous but an explicatory device: a means of developing, out of the different aspects of meaning packed into one word, various aspects of the reality which the word reflected.

Ruppin states that “in the Middle Ages the conceptions of Jew and trader became well-nigh synonymous.” Gustav Mayer makes a similar statement: “to the average German, Judaism and capitalism came pretty close to being synonymous.” Sterling quotes the economist Friedrich Harkort at the time, on the fact that behind the Jewish money-lenders and mortgage collectors stood the Junkers, who made the profit. These Junkers Harkort called “the Jews with boots and spurs” who constituted the real speculators and grasping creditors. [45] The synonymy of Jew and some form of commercialism was taken for granted not only by those who threw epithets at the Jews but equally by those who defended them.

With this background in mind, one can go back to Marx’s On the Jewish Question to read it as it was written, not as it is refracted through the dark glass of contemporary ignorance and malice.

It was a contribution to a hotly fought campaign in favor of Jewish political emancipation – not however on behalf of the “Christian and Jewish great merchants, factory owners, bankers, and insurance directors who drafted the petitions,” but to show how to link this current battle up with the eventual struggle against these very gentlemen. Its aim was to support political emancipation today in order to make possible social emancipation tomorrow. Hence its last words: “The social emancipation of the Jew is the emancipation of society from Judaism.”

These compact words do in fact sum up the entire burden of the argument: It is wrong to make the political emancipation of the Jew wait on his social emancipation (as Bauer wanted); for we are dealing with the economic Jew, and economic Judaism is now one with bourgeois society as a whole.

5. How to Manufacture Anti-Semites

It should be clear now that there were two quite different issues involved in attitude toward the Jews, from the period of the Enlightenment to at least the 1870s (when anti-Semitism first became a racialist social and political movement and indeed the term itself was invented – by anti-Semites). One issue involved an opinion about das Judentum [2*] (like or dislike); the other, a position on the status of Jews in the state and society (abolition of civic, legal, political disabilities). As we have seen, a dim view of Jewry was well-nigh universal, in some not-always- clear sense and for varying reasons, but with clear roots in the nature of “economic Judaism”. The division in public opinion occurred on the second issue, the question of political emancipation and equal rights.

As a result there is a curious system common among historians, not to speak of marxologists. Historical figures are made into “philo-Semites” or “anti-Semites” at will by referring only to one or the other issue, with the same obtuse lack of distinction that was so characteristic of the people of that benighted era itself. A couple of examples will give a proper perspective on the treatment of Marx’s essay.

We saw that Glickson (p.595) had looked for a single exception among the contemporary masters to the general lack of sympathy for Jews, and had gone back to the previous century to turn one up: G.E. Lessing, whose poetic drama Nathan the Wise (1779) was the most renowned “philo-Semitic” production in Germany, perhaps in European history. This reputation is based on the sympathetic portrayal of Nathan as Edeljude, the noble Jew, good and wise. This reputation brought down on Lessing’s head the vituperation of generations of anti-Semites-for example, Nazi-like ravings by E. Dühring in 1881. [46] Without derogating Lessing’s contribution for its time, a closer look at the play produces a strange result if it is counterposed to Marx’s essay.

  1. Lessing’s play does not raise the question of equal rights for Jews; to the contrary, it takes their inferior status for granted. For the setting is Saladin’s Jerusalem, where both Jews and Christians exist on the sufferance of Saladin, who is portrayed as being just as noble as Nathan.
  2. Lessing’s chosen model, Nathan, is a rich Jewish merchant who has just returned from a debt-collecting trip, bringing back a fabulous wealth of goods. He is so rich that he is capable of playing the part of Rothschild to the sultan. In short, he is the worse of the two stereotypes of the economic Jew, not the poor-huckster model but the financial-plutocrat model. Lessing does not challenge the stereotype; he gilds it. He glorifies his rich Jew by painting him in pleasing colors.
  3. Nathan is a Jew by birth but not by belief in Judaism, being in fact a Deist, like Lessing himself. He explains in a parable (which is the ideological centerpiece of the play and was its starting point in Lessing’s mind) that the three religions are as like as identical rings; the only difference is that one happens to inherit one rather than the other. The repugnance the wise Nathan would feel for Jewish orthodoxy is left implicit but is unquestionable.
  4. The point is repeatedly made that Nathan is an exceptional Jew. Repeatedly “Jew” is used generically to refer to the usual mean; miserly, money-mad Jew of the popular language. The noble Sittah twice wonders whether Nathan is a Jew like other Jews or whether he is good as reported; the noble Templar wonders whether Nathan has really unlearned “to be a Jew”; and the noble Nathan himself, wondering at one point what game the sultan is playing with him, soliloquizes, “Who here is really the Jew – he or I?” (To be sure, Lessing does not refer to “the dirty Jews”; instead, he refers just as routinely to “the dirty Moors”, the contemporaneous equivalent of “dirty niggers”.) [47]

In short, the great “philo-Semitic” message of the play is the equivalent of “Some of my best friends are Jews”, or even “You would hardly believe he’s a Jew, my dear!” In fact, Lessing had written it down himself, in an early (1749), “philo-Semitic” comedy called The Jews: “Truly there are Jews who aren’t Jews at all.” [48] Replying to a critic who urged that the noble-Jew figure was so great an improbability as to invalidate the play, Lessing vigorously agreed the case was rare, but argued that, since the Jews’ unfortunate condition was due to their necessity for “living purely and simply from trade”, it would cease with the cause, when the Jews no longer “maintain a wretched existence through base small trade”. Hence, he explained, he chose a rich man as his figure. [49] Lessing’s views revolved around the economic-Jew stereotype as completely as anyone’s.

The single exception in a hundred years, Lessing, turns out to have used Jude as the same generic cuss-word as every other pixillated German and European. In contrast, Marx used Judentum as an impersonal historic-economic category, to make the point that Jewry and Christendom had been homogenized in our huckster society.

There is a second example, mentioned earlier: the case of “Voltaire’s anti-Semitism”, as reported by Peter Gay. [50] Voltaire’s derogatory remarks about the Jews, including the inevitable economic stereotype, are exhibited. But we are told in addition that Voltaire’s transgression is so much the less forgivable because the very same period held a live option for “philo-Semitism” which was taken by other men.

John Locke is cited as the philo-Semite, against Voltaire the anti- Semite. The evidence is Locke’s Letter on Toleration (1689), where he indubitably comes out in favor of religious worship for Jews: “The Jews are permitted to have dwellings and private houses; why are they denied synogogues?” If Locke was also in favor of equal rights for Jews across the board, as Gay seems to imply, Locke neglected to say so in this essay. He goes so far as to state that “neither Pagan nor Mahometan nor Jew should be excluded from the commonwealth because of his religion.”

Gay did not mention, however, that in this very same passage Locke makes clear that he considers Judaism to be “abominable”. [51] This is said only in passing; but then the other statements are in passing too; for Locke’s essay is a closely reasoned argumentation, not a discursive article, and the reference to the Jews is a hurried one. We know of no reason to believe that Locke had any greater liking than Voltaire for the practitioners of this “abominable” cult: he was arguing in the spirit of the civil-liberties lawyer who battles for equal rights even for known criminals.

But was not Voltaire also for religious toleration in the same sense? Yes, he was; and in fact in 1764 a French translation of Locke’s essay was joined to Voltaire’s treatise on toleration to make one book, with a preface (which Professor Klibansky believes was written by Voltaire himself) praising Locke’s argument. [52]

We can now see how to create (or appoint) philo-Semites and anti-Semites at will. Granted that both Locke and Voltaire were for toleration of the Jewish religion, and that both disliked the Jews themselves, you quote Locke on the first and Voltaire on the second – voilà! The system is an infallible recipe. [3*]

There is a further complication about the “anti-Semite” Voltaire, which Gay does set forth. It seems, argues Gay, that in these excursions Voltaire was interested in striking not so much at Judaism as at Christianity, for he wanted to reinforce his hostile view of Christianity by also discrediting the source (Judaism) from which this pernicious religion derived. Hence his “dislike of the Jews ... was a partly unconscious, partly conscious cloak for his anti-Christian sentiments.” [54] In fact, Voltaire was interested in attacking all religions from his Deist standpoint – just as, from the same Deist standpoint, Lessing wanted to represent all religions as equally meaningless as far as differences were concerned. Where Lessing portrayed the noble Jew, Moslem, and Christian with equable brush in a paroxysm of reconciliation, Voltaire painted all the devout as fools, knaves, and miscellaneous miscreants – also fairly impartially. In his century there was no reason to let the Jews off the hook; that makes him an “anti-Semite” in this century – for historians who project themselves back into history as undercover agents of the Anti-Defamation League.

Lastly: we mentioned earlier that the “Young Germany” movement (Gutzkow, Laube) has been cited for anti-Semitic treatment of Jewish figures – like everybody else. Gutzkow, for example, wrote a novel involving this sort of anti-Semitism. But when the young Engels, not yet nineteen, became enthusiastic about Young Germany’s liberal and democratic tendency, the figure he admired most was Ludwig Borne. Indeed his letters of this time to a boyhood friend are filled with encomiums on this German Jewish publicist. [55] In this young man’s eyes, Young Germany stood not only for political freedom in general but in particular for Jewish emancipation – “Who can have anything against this?” [4*] For him, the “distress of the Jews” is part of the liberal indictment of the status quo. He tells his friend about his literary hero: You call for a faithful Eckart? “See, there he is already, a small chap with a sharp Jewish profile – his name is Borne ...” He mentions the liberal poet Creizenach twice with warm praise, and both times prominently identifies Creizenach as a Jew. He brings up the “Wandering Jew” (in German, the “Eternal Jew”) as one of the models for freedom of the spirit about which he dreams of writing a second Faust. He lists “the emancipation of the Israelites as the first of three positive achievements of Napoleon. [57]

Is this young man a philo-Semite like Lessing? Yes, like Lessing: for, in this same correspondence with his friend, one also finds the routine use of the economic-Jew stereotype as a jibe, as also in later life. Quoted by itself, this would make him an anti-Semite – like all the other pixillated people.

The real issue of the time had nothing to do with the use of language about Judaism based on the universally accepted economic-Jew stereotype. The real Jewish question was: For or against the political emancipation of the Jews? For or against equal rights for Jews?

This was the Jewish question that Marx discussed, not the one that dominated the minds of a sick society a century later.




1*. Leon’s term people-class, which marks the conjuncture of an ethnic group with a collective economic role, is similar to Marx’s repeated references to the “merchant-peoples” (or trading peoples, Handelsvölker) of antiquity and the Middle Ages. Among these he mentioned the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Lombards, and Normans, as well as the Jews, all of them operating in the “interstices” or “pores” of a society not itself based on commerce. [40]

2* This, in turn, divides into two subquestions: one’s opinion of the religion (Judaism) or of the people. The first problem was consciousness of the distinction. Marx had distinguished between the two with unusual clarity in his letter of 13 March 1843 (see p.111fn), in which he mentioned his repugnance to the religion as against supporting the demand for Jewish emancipation. It must be recalled that at this point Judaism meant mainly the orthodox faith as it had emerged from the Middle Ages; Reform Judaism had just taken shape but would not have determined the public discussion. The rise of Reform Judaism was itself a symptom of the widespread repugnance felt by those modernized Jews who were not willing to be hypocritically orthodox à la Rothschild.

3*. Gay does the same with Montesquieu, but with an open contradiction. He cites Montesquieu as his second example of philo-Semitism as against Voltaire, since Montesquieu deplored persecution of the Jews. But Gay also mentions, before closing the matter, that Montesquieu was so misguided as to note “the Jews’ affinity for commerce and banking”, and that he even wrote: “You ask me if there are Jews in France. Know that wherever there is money, there are Jews.” [53] Everybody is pixillated.

4*. See page 200 for two citations from Engels’ letters of 1839 mentioning the Jewish emancipation issue. The emancipation of the Jews, as a political issue, continued to play the same role for Engels in later years. [56]




1. See Dagobert Runes, ed.: A World Without Jews, by Karl Marx, an alleged translation; the reader is not told that the title is Runes’s invention; there are other distortions in the text.

2. For the usurer definition, see any good German-English dictionary (e.g., Muret-Sanders, 1920, or Wildhagen-Héraucourt, 1970) as well as, say, the 1843 edition of Flügel’s, under Jude, Judelei, judeln, etc. Cf. Encyclopaedia Judaica (Berlin, 1932-pre-Hitler), v.9, p.530. English was no different: in the Oxford English Dictionary, under Jew and its forms, see the examples cited from writers like Byron, Coleridge, Cobbett, Washington Irving, D.G. Rossetti, going back to Chaucer. (In 1973 this dictionary was sued on the demand that it should suppress this corner of philology.) For the German Jews’ tendency to abandon Jude as a dirty word by the beginning of the 19th century, see Graupe: Die Entstehung des Modernen Judentums (1969), p.235; also the comment in Waldman: Goethe and the Jews (1934), p.255.

3. Bauer: The Jewish Problem (1958), pp.10, 114, 123; Silberner: Sozialisten zur Judenfrage (1962), p.117; Sterling: Judenhass (1969), p.101.

4. Silberner: Soz. z. Jud., p.117; Sterling: Judenhass, p.101.

5. Stirner: The Ego and His Own (1907), pp.20-21, 48, 135.

6. Massing: Rehearsal for Destruction (1949), p.253, n. 15; Silberner: Soz. z. Jud., p.126; Diamond: Marx’s First Thesis, Science & Society (Summer 1937), p.544; Mehring: Geschichte der Deutschen Sozial-Demokratie (1960), Vol.1, pp.121-122.

7. Cornu: Karl Mark et Friedrich Engels (1954-70), Vol.2, pp.273, 330 fn.1; Silberner: Moses Hess: Geschichte seines Lebens (1966), pp.191-192; McLellan: The Young Hegelians & Karl Marx (1969), pp.153-154.

8. Hess: Philosophische und Sozialistische Schriften (1961), pp.345-346; Silberner: M. Hess, pp.188-189, also partly quoted in his Soz. z. Jud., pp.184-185, in both without the least comment. Cf. also Cornu: K.M. et F.E., vol.2, pp.273-274, 323-330.

9. Silberner: M. Hess, p.130; and his Soz. z. Jud., p.184.

10. Silberner: M. Hess, pp.26-28, 48, 85.

11. Sterling: Jewish Reac. to Jew-Hatred, Leo Baeck Institute (London) Year Book 3 (1958), pp.110-112.

12. Silberner: Soz. z. Jud., Ch. 10; Footman: Ferdinand Lassalle: Romantic Revolutionary (1947), pp.119-120.

13. Heine: Works (Leland) (1891-1905), vol.8, pp.75, 78; cf. also pp.510-511.

14. Rose: Heinrich Heine: Two Studies of His Thought (1956), p.132; cf. also p.101.

15. Sterling: Judenhass, p.101.

16. Lowenthal: The Jews of Germany (1936), p.239; Reissner: Rebellios Dilemma: The Case Histories of Eduard Gans and Some of His Partisans, Leo Baeck Institute (London) Year Book 2 (1957), p.179; Meyer: The Origins of the Modern Jew (1967), p.181.

17. Silberner: Soz. z. Jud., p.127; cf. 167. Avineri: Hegel’s Theory of the Modern State, pp.17-19, 55.

18. Krieger: The German Idea of Freedom (1957), p.181; Silberner: Soz. z. Jud., pp.170-172.

19. Sterling: Judenhass, pp.100-101.

20. Silberner: M. Hess, p.86.

21. Mayer: Early German Socialism and Jewish Emancipation, Jewish Social Studies 1 (1939), p.410. Cf. also the example of W. Menzel mentioned incidentally in Silberner: M. Hess, p.34.

22. Glickson: The Jewish Complex of Karl Marx (1961), p.29.

23. Waldman: Goethe, pp.246-268, esp. p.249.

24. Silberner: Soz. z. Jud., pp.126-127.

25. Rosdolsky: La Neue Rheinische Zeitung et les Juifs, Etudes de Marxologie, no.7 (Aug. 1963), p.61.

26. Szajkowski: The Jewish St.-Simonians and Socialist Anti-Semites in France, Jewish Social Studies 9 (1947), p.60. For Fourierism, ibid., p.46-50 esp.; Silberner: Charles Fourier on the Jewish Question, Jewish Social Studies 6 (1946), (all); also his The Attitude of the Fourierist School Towards the Jews, Jewish Social Studies 9 (1947), (all), and his Soz. z. Jud., pp.16-43. On Voltaire, Gay: The Party of Humanity (1964), pp.97-108, esp. p.102. A good account on France is contained in Hertzberg: The French Enlightenment and the Jews (1970).

27. On Proudhon, Schapiro: Liberalism and the Challenge of Fascism (1949), pp.358-3 59; Draper: A Note on the Father of Anarchism, New Politics (Winter 1969), p.80. On Bakunin, Carr: Michael Bakunin (1961), pp.145, 369, 371, 459; Pyziur: The Doctrine of Anarchism of Michael A. Bakunin (1955), p.38n.; Silberner: Soz. z. Jud., Ch.18. For James Guillaume, Bakunin’s chief lieutenant, see his book Karl Marx Pangermaniste (1915), which throughout carefully identifies as Jews all the possible enemies of humanity; also cf. Silberner: Soz. z. Jud., p.276.

28. See e.g. Harney’s Democratic Review, editorial, vol.1, p.352; Ernest Jones’s Notes to the People, article on The Jews in Poland (probably not by Jones himself), Vol.1, 1851, no.11; for Bronterre O’Brien, see Collins & Abramsky, Karl Marx and the British Labour Movement (1965), p.253 and fn; about an O’Brienite, see Plummer: Bronterre: A Political Biography of Bronterre O’Brien 1804-1864 (1971), 268; Silberner: Soz. z. Jud., Ch.15.

29. Avineri: Marx and Jewish Emancipation, Journal of the History of Ideas (July-Sept 1964), p.447.

30. Symons: T. Carlyle: The Life and Ideas of a Prophet (1952), p.232; Wilson: T. Carlyle, vol.3, pp.405, 409; vol.4, 162-163, 373, 379, 451-452.

31. Quoted in Rocker: The London Years, pp.117, 119.

32. Summations of this economic-historical research may be found in: Ruppin: The Jews in the Modern World (1934), Part III, esp. pp.109-115, 122-123, 130-135; Reich: The Econonomic Structure of Modern Jewry, The Jews. Their History, Culture and Religion (1949), vol.2; Hertzler: The Sociology of Anti-Semitism Through History, in Greaber & Britt (eds.), Jews in a Gentile World (1942), pp.86-91; Graupe: Entstehung Mod. Jud., pp.239-241; Cohen: Jewish Life in Modern Times (1914), pp.182-213; Leon: The Jewish Question (1971).

33. Sterling: Judenhass, pp.29-30; re the last sentence, see also Elbogen & Sterling: Die Geschichte der Juden in Deutschland, pp.196-197, 222.

34. Ibid., p.79.

35. For insight into lower-class anti-Jewish feeling, see Sterling: Anti-Jewish Riots in Germany in 1819, Historica Judaica (Oct. 1950). Bloom: Karl Marx and the Jews, Jewish Social Studies 4 (1942), p.8. Mayer: Early Ger. Soc., p.417.

36. For one silly example of this trend, see Miriam Beard: Anti-Semitism – Product of Economic Myths, in Graeber & Britt: Jews Gent. World, which is anthologized under the rubric The Mirage of the Economic Jew.

37. Namier, in Ruppin: Jews in Mod. World, p.xvi; see also the presentation of the question in Graupe: Entsteh. Mod. Jud., pp.239-241. For “others”, Cohen: Jewish Life, pp.188ff; Engelman: The Rise of Jew in the Western World (1944), pp.93ff.

38. Léon: Jewish Qu., p.219.

39. Ibid., pp.129-135.

40. Marx: Grundrisse (1953), pp.134, 165, 167.

41. Greenberg: The Myth of Jewish Parasitism, Jewish Frontier Anthology 1934-1944 (1945), pp.223, 229; 223-234, 224-225.

42. Ibid., p225.

43. Encyclopaedia Judaica (Berlin 1929), v.4, pp.974-975. On Syrkin, see e.g., Syrkin: Essays on Socialist Zionism (n.d. [1935]), p.23; or Labor Zionist Handbook (1939), p.6.

44. McLellan: Marx before Marxism (1970), pp.141-142; also his ed. of Marx: Early Texts, p.112; Tucker: Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx (1961), p.111.

45. Ruppin: Jews Mod. World, p.133. Mayer: Early Ger. Soc., p.420; see also his explanation on pp.419-420. Sterling: Judenhass, p.33; cf. use of Schacherjuden by young Engels in his Condition of the Working Classes in England, in MEW, vol.2, p.487 (Marx & Engels: On Britain [1962], p.314). See also Meyer: Orig. Mod. Jew, p.69.

46. Dühring: Die Ueberschätzung Lessing’s und dessen Anwaltschaft für die Juden (1881), esp. but not only Ch.3.

47. Lessing: Nathan der Weise, Act II, Sc.3; III, 4; IV, 4; III, 6; II, 9.

48. Quoted in Sterling: Der Kampf um die Emanzipation der Juden in Rheinland, in Monumenta Judaica (1960), vol.2, p.285.

49. Lessing: Sämtliche Schriften (1890), vol.6, pp.160-161.

50. Gay: Party of Hum., pp.97ff. “Voltaire’s Anti-Semitism” is the chapter title.

51. Locke: A Letter on Toleration (1968), p.145 (for all quotations given).

52. Preface by Prof. Raymond Klibansky, in ibid., p.xxx.

53. Gay: Party of Hum., pp.99-100.

54. Ibid., p.103.

55. Engels’ praise of Borne is so constant that one need simply look up Borne in the name index to MEW, Ergänzungsband. 2; some typical examples are at pp.395, 413, 420-421, 426, 430, 434. Later Engels qualified the relationship of Borne to Young Germany; cf. Engels: Review of Alexander Jung, MEW, vol.1, p.437.

56. E.g. Engels: Hungary, NRZ 19 May 1849, MEW, vol.6, pp.507, 514.

57. Letter, Engels to W. Graeber, 30 July 1839, MEW, Ergänzungsband 2, pp.414-415; the same, 8 Oct. and 15 Nov. 1839, in ibid., pp.419, 432; the same, 15 Nov. 1839, ibid., p.431; cf. Engels: German Chapbooks, MEW, Ergänzungsband 2, p.16; also see his reference to an essay The Jews in Bremen following month, ibid., p.437 (not extant). Engels to E.M. Arndt, MEW, Ergänzungsband 2, p.122.


Last updated on 27.9.2004