Karl Kautsky

On the Problems of the Jewish Proletariat in England

(23 April 1904)

Kautsky on the Problems of the Jewish Proletariat in England, Justice, 23rd April 1904, p.4.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

(Specially written for the New Times, organ of the East London Jewish Branch S.D.F. Translated by B.K.)

I welcome the appearance of the Jewish Neue Zeit with joy. The paper has before it a great work, and promises to become an important member of the fraternity of militant Socialist organs.

There is no doubt that, owing to their distinctive moral and intellectual qualities and unique social position, the Jews play an important part in the Socialist movement. Without necessarily belonging to the school of thought which explains all historical events by the racial properties of the peoples, that is, which explains every social development in any race by the bodily organisation of the individuals composing it, one may still recognise the fact that each nation displays its particular spiritual and physical properties, though it is impossible to clearly define which of these properties originate in the inherited bodily organisation of the individuals composing the race and which of them have been acquired through the various influences of society that have affected it through thousands of years.

And thus also the Jewish race possesses its distinctive spiritual physiognomy, though it is not possible to decide how much of it has been inherited from the older generation of Jews (who were themselves a product of the intermingling of many races) and how much is due to the social influences to which the Jews have been subjected throughout their history.

It is enough to point out that the Jewish race does possess its own spiritual physiognomy, which finds its expression in a splendid power of abstraction and a keen critical intellect.

It is owing to this that the Jews, since the time they have entered into European civilisation, have given to the world more great thinkers than, in proportion to their numbers, perhaps any other nation, and the names of Spinoza, Ricardo and Marx form epochs in the history of human thought.

But since the Jews, from the time they have ceased to be an independent nation, have always, on the whole, belonged to the down-trodden classes, they have applied their power of abstraction and critical abilities more particularly to the service of revolutionary thought. Because of this they have become very important to the proletarian movement of every country, but no movement, perhaps, needs them as much as does the English. For the Anglo-Saxon proletariat, more than any other, lacks those intellectual qualities which make of the unconscious class warrior a conscious Socialist, and make him thus independent of the bourgeoisie in his thinking as well as in his social and political action. And these are the necessary conditions for his social emancipation. The English proletariat lacks, more than any other, the power of abstraction and deep-reaching criticism, and he is satisfied with so-called “practical politics” and is proud of the fact that he can see no further than his nose.

The Jewish proletariat possesses that which the English lacks. Nothing can be so beneficial as the intermingling of the qualities of both – the union of the Angle-Saxon vigour and love of freedom with the speculative and critical power of the Jews. If the Jewish Proletarians in England should develop a strong Socialist movement they will work, not only for themselves, but also for the whole of the proletarian movement in England, for which, indeed, they will become a sort of yeast.

Poor, ignorant, oppressed, without knowledge, of the language of the land, they come from Russia to England and fall an easy prey in the hands of the worst exploiters. But he need not live long England, before the Jew organises. He takes up: the struggle against his exploiters, he raises himself to the highest form of the proletarian class war – to Socialism – and thus he who on his arrival has been looked upon as one to lower the rate of wages, becomes a warrior in the front ranks, and shows, the English worker by a practical example that the theory of Socialism can well combine with the struggle for immediate needs – higher wages and the shortening of the working day. He shows him that Socialist thinking is not only not an obstacle to real practical working-class politics, but is, on the contrary, the very best means of attaining it.

Giving thus a splendid practical education in Socialism (not as school-masters, but as comrades) to the English workers, the Jewish proletarians effect for Socialism a greater propaganda than could have been done by any number of theoretical speeches or writings.

To this not-too-easy task of the Jewish proletariat in England, another maybe added. Though becoming a part of the English proletariat, they still remain closely related to the Russian. Russia – that is, the Russian autocracy – is the great opponent of all free movements, and every proletarian or Socialist movement which is not an enemy of the Russian autocracy is a traitor to the proletariat, to freedom, and to humanity.

One must not be lulled by the phrases of universal peace, as some French and English ideologists love to be. None are warmer friends of peace than Social Democrats, but the way to universal peace lies over the corpse of Russian absolutism. This absolutism must be, crushed before a long continued peace is possible. And for this reason, in the interests of peace, we call for a war against the Russian Czar.

Every weakening of Czarism spells the strengthening of the international proletarian movement, and vice versa every strengthening of the international proletarian movement spells the weakening of Czarism.

And if this be true of every proletarian movement out of Russia, it is more so of the Jewish.

The Jewish working-class movement, as such, and because of its relations with the movement in Russia, stand in sharper conflict to Russian absolutisms than any other working-class movement out of Russia. The Jewish proletariat of Russia in particular and the Russian proletariat in general cannot but gain and be strengthened by the growth of the Socialist movement among the Jewish working classes in England, because the latter will not fail to lend a helping hand to their comrades in Russia.

And thus the Socialist movement of the Jewish working class in England attains a double importance far above its immediate ranks: it is important for the struggle against Czarism and the propaganda among the English proletariat. It becomes of importance not merely as an exclusively Jewish movement, but as a part of the great war of the proletarians of all countries and races.

In view of this great importance of the Socialist propaganda among the Jewish proletariat in England International Social-Democracy has every ground to welcome and support the Jewish Neue Zeit. I wish it from my heart all success.


With party greetings,
K. Kautsky


Last updated on 16.6.2004