Karl Kautsky

Are the Jews a Race?

Chapter I
Race Theories

“On the Jew’s faith I do not look, his race is what I cannot brook” [1], is the motto of modern anti-Semitism, which – contrary to the naive anti-Semitism of earlier periods – is proud of its scientific spirit and feels itself free from religious prejudices. Just as religion was once obliged, and is still obliged, to cloak or justify all possible varieties of secular partisan interests, so natural science must now aid in representing aspirations of interests with strictly temporal and spatial limitations as natural and eternal necessities.

This does not mean that religion formerly – and the natural sciences now – were actually created for such purposes by interested parties, as is sometimes maintained with regard to religion. Both grow from entirely different roots. But as soon as either has become a force dominating the thought of men, each social stratum finds itself impelled to make use of this force and to justify its interests on the basis of this force. When, at the end of the Eleventh Century, the nations of western and central Europe had been relieved of the pressure of the Slavs and Arabs to such an extent as to enable them to take the offensive and plunder the wealthy Orient, they inaugurated their predatory campaigns – the Crusades – with the battle-cry: Dieu le veult! And when, a few centuries later, after the Turks had again pushed back the Christians in the Mediterranean, and the rising capitalism of western Europe was crying for colonial booty and finding ready tools for its adventurous expeditions to new continents in the declining knighthood and the expropriated peasants, these continents were visited with fire and sword, plunder and serfdom, in order to bring the light of true religion to the heathen for the greater glory of God. And the class struggles in Europe itself, which were then disintegrating feudalism and ushering in capitalism, were conducted as late as in the Seventeenth Century by the various parties with constant invocations of the Bible and the Fathers of the Church.

Since then religion has lost its power. As industrial capitalism advances, the religious mode of thought is replaced by the scientific mode of thought. Religion still maintains itself for a period, by force of habit, as a conservative power, but the motive springs of the ensuing social evolution cease to make use of religious modes of thought and arguments. The advances of the new, capitalist mode of production are closely connected with the advances in the natural sciences. Each serves as a powerful stimulus to the other. The bourgeois intelligentsia now demand that all social aspirations be in accord with natural science, i.e., with the recognized laws of nature; each social interest must find its justification in its compatibility with the laws of nature. In this connection, however, human society sometimes still fails to be regarded as a specific portion of nature, having its own laws, just as organic nature has its own laws as distinguished from those of inorganic nature. The inadequacy of this point of view easily becomes apparent, producing a reaction in favour of isolating human society, or man himself, as a social, ethical creature, from the natural laws of causality.

The bourgeois philosophy of our times moves between these two extremes.

Once Darwinism had completed its victorious procession through the natural sciences, it was regarded as up-to-date to apply it without further ado to social conditions also. There are no sudden leaps in nature, but only imperceptible transformations, therefore natural science forbids revolution as a violation of natural laws. The struggle for existence is represented as an eternal process, wherefor it is contrary to nature to construct a society without competition, etc.

In the last few decades it is particularly the conception of race that enjoys precedence as an explanation, or rather justification, of social institutions and aspirations.

A colonial policy is represented by the theoreticians of race as a natural necessity, as a consequence of the fact that nature creates master races and slave races. Only the former have creative ability; the others are devoid of independence, cannot exist without foreign guidance, cannot evolve to a higher stage, but are doomed to serve the master races.

But the law of natural necessity with which these race theoreticians operate also affords additional pleasant inferences for certain bourgeois cliques of our time. Even within the master races there are differences of race, the blond race being the most magnificent of all. These blond (Nordic) gentlemen proclaim themselves to be the cleverest, noblest and mightiest of men, whom all others must serve. International politics must be based on this conception, from which also results the necessity for the existence of exploiters and exploited.

Viewed from this standpoint, the French Revolution assumes a very peculiar function. Mr. Bornhak, Professor of Public Law at the University of Berlin, begins with the fact that the area of present-day France, formerly inhabited by Celts, and later conquered by the Romans, finally succumbed during the migration of nations to Teutonic tribes, who there created a new government authority, controlled by them with the aid of the Catholic Church. This state appears to Bornhak as the exclusive achievement of the Teutonic barbarians: “The Celts are politically one of the most incapable races that have ever existed.” The Teutons, on the other hand, are “a truly state-organising race of creative endowment”. It is they who made France a power, until their Celtic subjects exterminated the master race in the great revolution, “with barbarous cruelty”.

“The Romanised Celtic race becomes the entire population. But this result simultaneously, owing to the political incapacity of the Celtic race, sealed the fate of the French nation.” [2]

The same conception of the French Revolution as a rebellion of inferior Celts against the noble blond race had previously been advocated by Driesmans, who maintained that this revolution had been “made by lawyers and journalists”, professions of “unquestioned Celtic origin”. [3] That is the way our race theoreticians understand the writing of history.

Their political economy is not any sounder. The anthropologist Ammon in 1893 published a work on natural selection among humans (Die natürliche Auslese beim Menschen), in which he finds, on the basis of material collected in Baden, that the class distinction between capitalists and proletarians is based on the existence of two races within the population, a blond, dolichocephalic, Teutonic race, and a black, brachycephalic, “Mongolian” race. The latter are declared deficient in independence and mental endowment, differing in these respects from the Teutons: “Like all Aryans, the Teutons are born to rule other peoples. Wherever they appear, they are the ruling and socially preferred classes, they are a people of fierce courage and indomitable energy, of devotion and fidelity, of pride and truthfulness, a shining race of demigods, the like of whom the world has seen but once before, in the Greeks, and will probably never see again.”

Ammon investigates the story of the evolution of these demigods on the basis of material collected in the little province of Baden, where they live in the country as peasants together with the Mongolian roundheads, and emigrate to the cities like the latter. In the cities, owing to their demigod nature, they soon rise to splendid eminence, being transfigured into city employees, brewers, grain dealers, and other god-like forms, while the black-haired Asiatics from the Schwarzwald are relegated to the well deserved, contemptible servitude of wage-labour.

About the same time, even antedating Ammon, other theoreticians of race came forward with the statement that it was not the blond Teutons but the black-haired Asiatics who were more and more gaining control of capital in the cities, subjugating the Teutons and gradually displacing them even as intellectuals, physicians, lawyers, journalists. But the victors in this case were not lauded as demigods, but denounced as a dangerous riff-raff, who must be driven out or at least disfranchised, in the interest of the lordly Teutons. This race of swarthy undesirables is that of the Jews. The race argument is used more in support of anti-Semitism than in any other social movement of our times, having now completely displaced the religious argument in western Europe.

The anti-Semitism inherited from the Feudal Era had long seemed to be about to disappear, having dwindled to the same extent, and under the influence of the same capitalist evolution, as the power of religion, and being regarded as one of the prejudices of backward persons.

But about a generation ago it began to come up again, becoming modernised, and while it may not be a political factor in modern countries, it is nevertheless everywhere a social factor. We shall learn subsequently the causes of this condition, as well as why we shall not be able to dispose of this anti-Semitism so quickly, but also – of course – why anti-Semitism cannot count on a victory.

Let us first consider only the racial argument of anti-Semitism, an argument which is not used by anti-Semitism alone, but also by other domestic and international movements.

Characteristically enough, there is rising within Judaism, as a reaction against anti-Semitism, a similar tendency to accept and utilize the theory of race. It is a natural application of the principle: If this theory permits Christian-Teutonic patriots to declare themselves demigods, why should Zionist patriots not use it in order to stamp the people chosen by God as a chosen race of nature, a noble race that must be carefully guarded from any deterioration and contamination by foreign elements? A considerable literature has been produced within the past decade dealing with questions of this order. Already in 1904, these arguments were well summarised and evaluated in Friedrich Hertz’s book on modern theories of race, [4] of which a second revised and much enlarged edition was printed under another title in 1915. [5] Among the latest books on this subject, one of the best is that of Dr. Maurice Fishberg: The Jews: A Study of Race and Environment, London and New York 1911, 678pp. [6]

Fishberg uses not only material collected by other anthropologists, but also much new data obtained by him by measuring more than four thousand Jews from four continents, and digesting this material in a most conscientious and scholarly manner. It was to the many suggestions given me by this book that I owe the idea of writing the present little work.

In this connection, I might mention that I am again placed in the same embarrassing position that was mine when I wrote my book Increase and Evolution in Nature and Society, and to which I referred on pages vii and 17 of that work [7]: namely, I am obliged, although I am a layman in this field, to discuss questions connected with the natural science of biology. Here also there is a border region, one of the many points at which biology and sociology meet, and which, strictly speaking, would require the writer to be a master in both fields. But the present state of knowledge makes this impossible for any living man. No one who enters such a field – and they are much entered – can be required to have a mastery of more than one of the sciences in question, together with so much knowledge of the other as to know the general state of the science. His own science must always be such a man’s point of departure; it is his task to show the agreement between the conclusions of his own science and those of the border science, which is by no means a simple matter – let us say – for a sociologist, who finds the specialists in natural science in such great disagreement in questions of race, as, for instance, on the fundamental problem of heredity. The sociologist may, therefore, consider himself justified in making his selection among the conflicting theories of the natural scientist, though he be a layman, and to favour such theory as may be compatible with the firm basis he has gained in sociology.




1. Was der Jude glaubt, ist einerlei, In der Rasse liegt die Schweinerei.

2. C. Bornhak: Der Einfluss der Rasse auf die Staatsbildung, Archiv für Rassen und Gesellschaftsbiologie, March 1904, pp. 254 et seq.

3. Quoted by Hertz: Moderne Rassentheorien, p. 10.

4. Hertz: Moderne Rassentheorien, Vienna 1904.

5. Rasse und Kultur, Leipzig.

6. Kautsky uses the German translation of L. Hepner: Die Rassenmerkmale der Juden, Eine Einführung in ihre Anthropologie, München 1913, 300pp. Our references are to the pages of the English edition, except where the German translation, which involved some changes, is specifically mentioned. – Translator.

7. Vermehrung und Entwicklung in Natur und Gesellschaft, Stuttgart 1908.


Last updated on 1 June 2020